C.R.A.A.B. (Citizens to Remove Architectural and Attitudinal Barriers)
Within these artifacts, Priscilla Merriam seamlessly takes her community through countless scenarios concerning Westminster’s building accessibility. Priscilla Merriam, was a disability activist known for her creation of a twenty-nine-page Access Guide for the physically impaired. This Access Guide is titled “Labor of Love” and was created alongside her twelve-year-old neighbor, Brenton MacAloney. With the two of them working together, Brenton MacAloney worked as the “legs” of the operation by wheeling Priscilla Merriam around ninety-seven facilities as well as helping her collect data. The data was collected from numerous buildings within Westminster and included: the width of door frames, number of steps, and whether or not those with wheelchairs would be able to enter these buildings. Priscilla chose these data categories because of their inhibiting characteristics for those with disabilities who need to get into buildings for jobs, educational purposes, etc.
Another key element to the “Labor of Love” Access Guide is that it created an outline of all the facilities that needed to have renovations. Different types of buildings were broken up into sections, such as: Federal, Municipal, and Educational Institutions. With the detailed sections, this pushed the group Priscilla was immersed in, C.R.A.A.B. (Citizens to Remove Architectural and Attitudinal Barriers), to take initiative and have these very commonly used places made accessible to all. With Priscilla and Brenton’s guide, the local communities were challenged to make accommodations to create an environment that best accommodates everybody in every single category.
According to the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, the only buildings that “had” to be accessible for everyone were facilities that were funded in any way by federal agencies and in some cases specific schools. In 1988, when Priscilla first began examining facilities, she was aware of this law and also took note of whether or not each of the buildings were in compliance. She came to find that many buildings were not not accessible by wheelchairs, so how would those in the community who used wheelchairs or family members that utilized them be able to ingress? Even if they weren’t federal buildings, and the law didn’t apply, how did the community members in wheelchairs feel? How would you feel if in your hometown the only buildings you could easily access were federal buildings?
Employment for the disabled is also a large factor in Priscilla Merriam’s “Labor of Love” guide. When going into work settings, Priscilla and Brenton, as stated above, would take exact measurements of each door frame’s width. For example, in Westminster’s Highway Department on South Street, the first door used upon entry had a 25” frame. Most if not all wheelchairs would be able to fit through it. Aside from the door frames, it was also noted within the guide that there were no handicap specific parking places or passenger loading zones to drop employees in wheelchairs off, thus making employment for a disabled individual at these various sites seemingly impossible.
Since 1990, there have been many updates made to the Americans with Disability Act, but have these changes been significant in the daily lives of wheelchair or crutch-using residents across the world? The answer is slightly more complicated than many may think. There are several areas where this law has positively impacted lives, and still multiple different areas to this day that inhibit equality to all. One of the positive outcomes of the many that arose from this law would be the government taking a stand. The government after creating this law, decided that, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, “Contractors and subcontractors that have a contract with the Federal Government for $10,000 or more annually must take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities." This means that any company or group of workers that are within the government’s employment must seek out individuals who are qualified within the field that may be disabled and give them a fair chance to be employed. Yet, as of 2018, the employment rate for non-disabled adults was more than triple those who are disabled: “In 2018, the employment-population ratio - the proportion of the population that is employed - was 19.1 percent among those with disability. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today, in contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.9 percent” ("Persons with a Disability"). These statistics clearly state that, no matter what laws are put into place, there is still an undeniable discrimination against those who are not deemed as physically and/or mentally “capable” as others.
Transportation is another struggle for people with certain disabilities. Before one can even hope to be employed and have access to buildings, the process of getting to and from work is a whole other issue in itself. As Virginia Diza states, “Transportation is one of the most pressing challenges facing rural communities and has emerged as a critical support for aging in place. While some rural areas offer a variety of transportation services, many have no transportation services.” With transportation being in such a varying state for those around America, this undoubtedly creates a connection between transportation or lack thereof and unemployment. This was also a worry that Priscilla had because, in addition to the specific handicapped parking spots and unloading zones, whether or not there was transportation to the job made it unrealistic to have a job there. Could this possibly mean that back in the 1960-1980’s, before or even after these laws were passed, facilities deliberately created non-handicap accessible work sites?
Overall, with all the discrimination that has been continously shown throughout multiple decades, there have been many slight improvements, but the government along with millions of facilities world-wide undoubtedly must become more accommodating. Whether it is by implementing a ramp, an elevator, or even an unloading zone, the details matter. Being able to change your perspective around, looking through the lens of someone who has to deal with this never-ending discrimination, and seeing what changes must be made are the most difficult tasks. Yet, our society depends on our willingness and capability to go after what is difficult, and make the world a better and more inclusive place.
After reading and learning more about Priscilla Merriam and the hard work she put into this guide, it should be clear to anyone that this cannot be overlooked and ignored. What will it take for the government and our colleagues to step up, as Priscilla did, to make a difference?
Dize, Virginia. “Getting Around in Rural America.” Generations, vol. 43, no. 2, 2019, pp. 33–39. Asn, EBSCOhost, ezproxy.fitchburgstate.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true& db=asn&AN=138019380&site=ehost-live.
“Home.” Architectural Barriers Act, www.access-board.gov/the-board/laws/architectural-barriers-act-aba.
“Laws & Regulations.” U.S. Department of Labor, www.dol.gov/general/topic/disability/laws.
“Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 26 Feb. 2019, www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm.
“What's Changed In 20 Years Since ADA Passage.” NPR, 28 July 2010, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128825580.