Opening Words from Sun. December 8 by Jim and Aidan Jordan: Accessibility at the Ethical Society

The reason Aidan and I first came and became members of the Ethical Society was that participating in Boy Scouts of America troop was not working for him and a friend told me that an alternative scout troop was forming that would probably be more inclusive and accommodating.

SEEK Core Values include: “Every person is important and unique; Every person deserves to be treated fairly and kindly.” The Ethical Society “Statement of Purpose” published on the plaque in the Foyer highlights “Supporting people through the stages of life”. Providing an accessible and supportive place is inherent in the concept of “Supporting one another through the stages of life” & treating all with dignity, respect, and kindness.

Did you know there are more than 57 million Americans with mobility, sensory, neurological, intellectual, and other types of disabilities? What is the most common disability? (Hearing: the Ethical Society addressed this by making available hearing assisted technology)

The Ethical Society formed a committee with direction from the Board asking to make the Society more accessible so we can provide a physical environment where “all are welcome”. The committee includes myself as chair, Arkay Adkisson, Dan Overmann, Kate Lovelady, and Terri Arscott. Kent Forrest has been very helpful with physical work removing auditorium seats and other tasks.

It is important that life be accommodating to everyone in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with all abilities including physical, cognitive, and mental disabilities. … Accessible is about choice and dignity.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.

The 3rd title prohibits private places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. It sets the minimum standards for accessibility for alterations and new construction of facilities. It also requires public spaces to remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense.  This title directs the Ethical Society to make “reasonable modifications” to their usual ways of doing things when serving people with disabilities. It also requires that we take steps necessary to communicate effectively with “constituents with vision, hearing, and speech disabilities.

We say “all are welcome” and our committee is working to ensure this is true when new people come to the Ethical Society. As one of the Ethical Society’s core values, it is important for us to not only move the envelope, but to push the envelope to make accommodations as equal as possible. It is not OK to say that people in wheel chairs can only sit in the back or side of the auditorium. This invokes memories of Rosa Park’s stance that people of color can only sit in the back of the bus. As ethical humanists, it is important for us to take that next step in thinking that allows for autonomous choice making for people of all abilities. It is important for us to both consider and foster an awareness of what the additional needs might be for people with differing abilities such visual, hearing, physical, cognitive and/or mental impairments.

Two major additions that the Ethical Society implemented in the past are:

  • Addition of the elevator in 1999. Before that individuals would have to go outside and down the steep drive to access the lower level or vice versa from the lower parking lot.
  • Hearing devices available in the auditorium

So, what is the Accessibility Committee doing? What has it accomplished and what are future projects and goals?

We invited Paraquad to conduct a walk-through of the building to hear from professionals what we can and should do. We then categorized by priority and resources needed to complete a project.

  • Large print programs
  • Large sign announcing automatic door in back
  • Remove auditorium seats to make space for wheelchairs and wider chairs, like you see in office reception areas. On more set in the front row will be completed soon.
  • Lower some coat racks up and downstairs
  • Installed center-step railing for Auditorium and side railing going up onto the stage
  • Upstairs and downstairs woman’s bathroom stall doors open outwards for easier access into the stall

We are in the process to accomplish the following:

  • Effectively Communicate in a variety of ways to members and rental participants accessible choices
  • Train Ushers and others to assist those who want or need to use wider chairs or spaces for wheel chairs and their companions
  • Provide awareness sessions to our members, both adults and youth

Future Projects in the planning stages

  • 2020 – Foyer vestibules, need fixing anyway (water damage), add 1 set of 36″ automatic doors
  • Summer of 2020 – Inclusive Bathroom that accommodates families, lactating mothers, be Gender Neutral or other individual needs not served by men’s and woman’s bathrooms. It will replace the current changing room and serve as a multipurpose large bathroom to meet the needs of a variety of people
  • Summer of 2020 – Parking lot add additional handicapped parking spaces, including van accessible, and spaces near the lower level east entrance
  • 2021 – Downstairs bathroom remodeling to create accessible stall in each

We welcome members to make suggestions or join our committee to help achieve our goal where every person is able to participate in Ethical Society activities with choice, dignity and respect. Contact me if you are interested. I will also be leading and experiential forum on disability awareness on January 8 starting at 9:45. We hope to present it to the older youth groups this winter and spring.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.