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Editorial: Make the disabilities office accessible

The state should make it easier for people with disabilities to gain access to the offices intended to serve them, especially now that the 28th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act is upon us.

Today, VOICE-Buffalo Accessibility Task Force and its supporters plan to march/roll from Southgate Plaza to the West Seneca Developmental Disabilities Services Office. Getting there won’t be easy.

Their purpose is to demonstrate how inaccessible the facilities are for the clientele it is supposed to serve. It means taking two buses and a shuttle that runs only twice a day. Worse, they must contend with 50-plus mph traffic and a two-lane highway with no sidewalks.

Imagine that in a mobility device.

Advocates want the office moved somewhere more accessible – more than likely in the city where many of the clients reside. Perhaps more people with disabilities will be able to access employment services provided by the currently inaccessible West Seneca facilities or use the mentoring services for those struggling with the scars of institutionalization. The people pushing for the offices to be moved make a good point when saying the “state communicates disregard for the people in the role of self-advocate.”

Judging by an email statement from a spokeswoman from the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, this is not intentional. Jennifer O’Sullivan told News columnist Sean Kirst that the state is “taking steps to respond.” The agency is working on “both short-term and long-term plans to help alleviate those concerns.”

Those efforts will start by increasing shuttle service and adding midday runs and “working toward adding a satellite office in a shared space in Buffalo.”

It will cost to relocate the facilities, likely in the millions of dollars. Advocates figure that the state is weighing the costs of relocating against staying put. Balancing budgets is tricky these days. Economists point to the country’s wavering financial needle. The state has its own challenges.

Still, staying put does not seem a viable option. Beyond the problem of inaccessibility is the trauma it causes for those who lived there at a time when people with disabilities were hidden away from society and, as Kirst’s piece explains, treated horribly.

Times changed and society began to understand that we are all humans and deserving to be treated as such. The last people to reside in the facility moved away from the complex in 2012. But the offices and services remained, although out of reach for wheelchair-bound clientele whose ability to navigate is nearly impossible, especially during the cold, snowy winter months.

People should not have to continue to fight for accessibility in spaces designed to serve them, and not on the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Sean Kirst: West Seneca disabilities office is an ugly reminder of a bygone era

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