Ramping up the budget
September 14, 2009 5:34 PM   Subscribe

When, where, why did the notion begin that society must spare no expense to accommodate the disabled?

I am not saying it should or shouldn't. But I live in Montreal where the subway system (mostly built from the 1960s to the 1980s) was not designed with elevators in any of the stations. (The three new stations built this millennium do have elevators in them.)

Now elevators are being added to stations at vast expense, one by one. Today two were inaugurated and disabled spokespeople were quoted as complaining that it was not all being done at once. With 65 stations to update, there isn't the money or the workforce to do this, and of course there are other repairs, improvements and extensions which are needed too.

I know the U.S. has actual laws mandating disabled access now, but society didn't always feel this to be necessary. Where did it come from?
posted by zadcat to Society & Culture (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, before the industrial age, it wouldn't have necessarily been as complicated for disabled people to get to all the component parts of a city - less high-rises and busy streets to navigate...

But I'd bet wounded veterans had a big impact on people's attitudes. The more soldiers who gave their legs for their country who now can't even get to the freakin' subway you have, the more shitty you're gonna feel about that disparity.
posted by mdn at 5:45 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There is a lot of information available online about the history of the disability rights movement -- "disability rights history" should get you started. A short answer is that the movement broke into the mainstream most recently in the US during the 1970s, along with a host of other minority rights movements.
posted by ChrisHartley at 5:48 PM on September 14, 2009

Where did it come from?

You can find a pretty decent timeline/description of the origins of rights for the disabled.

Essentially, it wasn't society that learned to feel it was necessary to protect the rights of these people - it was demanded as a basic human right by those affected by lack of services and access.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:49 PM on September 14, 2009

mdn -- the disabled people I worked with in rural Tanzania had a very difficult time getting around their pre-industrial villages, especially crawling through the mud during the rainy season. At least when there is asphalt you can fashion some sort of wheeled device, either a wheelchair or a tricycle or a skateboard.
posted by ChrisHartley at 5:53 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I remember this changing in my country's building codes in the late 80s/early 90s. Apart from the civil rights argument advanced by mattdidthat, which was definitely a factor, I also remember advocacy pointing that there were benefits in allowing disabled people to participate in the economy. Obviously these things aren't nearly so expensive when you can design them into a new building rather than retrofitting an old structure.

Isn't "spare no expense" somewhat inflammatory? Both this phraseology and dfriedman's imply that there is little benefit to be obtained from the expenditure, which is far from clear.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:58 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A timeline, in French, of disability rights in Quebec.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:11 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with i_am_joe's_spleen: Isn't "spare no expense" somewhat inflammatory? Both this phraseology and dfriedman's imply that there is little benefit to be obtained from the expenditure, which is far from clear.

But that's phrased much more politely than I would have managed.
posted by selton at 6:20 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I apologize if my phrasing was not sufficiently tactful. I really did want the historical facts (which several repondents have kindly provided) to help me write a blog entry.
posted by zadcat at 6:24 PM on September 14, 2009

In a more direct way, it's lobbying by people like COPHAN and the CCD that make it happen. You may want to contact them (or other organizations; if the STM now cares so much about making the Metro accessible, it's probably because activists have been submitting memorandums for years; talking to the people who wrote and submitted those would give you a pretty good take on that side of the story).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:37 PM on September 14, 2009

I think it could be a result of social and political values changing. For example, the Canadian Human Rights Act (1977) and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) were passed after the stations you mention in Montreal were built. Here is some text from Section 15 of the Charter:
"Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability."

This was a huge step in Canadian society, as people with disabilities were slowly being integrated into daily life (school programs, jobs, outpatient services, etc.), as opposed to being isolated and institutionalized as was common. To achieve this, services need to be updated to meet these rights - and what you're seeing is a result. Building codes now promote barrier free design and have certain requirements for public buildings to try and promote such ideas.

According to the Council of Canadians with Disabilities "14.3% of Canadians report having a disability. Canadians with disabilities are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than other Canadians." Personally I know many people in that depend on public transport to get around, but are frustrated with "stop gap" services such as Wheel Trans, which can be late in assisting people in getting places. By pushing for a completely accessible subway network, it would allow for a easier inclusion of disabled customers on public transit rather than "special" services which are notoriously underfunded and understaffed.

Final thought: Canadian demographics - those Baby Boomers born just after WWII? They're approaching senior citizen status now and will represent a large portion of the Canadian landscape. As a result, expect more "barrier free" initiatives and housing to come along.
posted by carabiner at 6:39 PM on September 14, 2009

mdn -- the disabled people I worked with in rural Tanzania had a very difficult time getting around their pre-industrial villages, especially crawling through the mud during the rainy season. At least when there is asphalt you can fashion some sort of wheeled device, either a wheelchair or a tricycle or a skateboard.

Yeah, that was a bit hasty, just occurred to me that in some ways contemporary society that made everything easier made it easier in a very specific way that would actively discriminate against some portion of people, not just "not help". But it's true that nature is already rough enough even when the ground is soft and everyone's barefoot and on the first floor...

I am not saying it should or shouldn't.

you know, you really did frame this in a way that is likely to draw some antagonism. You are basically asking where these people get off wanting equal access. If you ever have a family member, or ever find yourself, disabled, you'll see that it's not really asking that much. It can be a complicated world to navigate when you have to consider every doorway or staircase, and it's good to have a few places confirmed.
posted by mdn at 6:42 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

A small note on this subject:

In my recent former life as a college administrator I attended a wonderful lecture by a universal access expert in the state of Washington. His very elegant point about accommodation modifications to architecture, work spaces, and the urban landscape is that the point is *universal* access. In other words, by making curb cuts to comply to ADA, you provide universal access to strollers, skateboards, wheeled shopping carts. By installing elevators, you assist people carrying loads, or someone who is temporarily mobility limited by a cast, for example. Bigger lettering, clearer acoustics, wider doorways and halls make environments more accessible for everyone, for lots of different reasons.

I think, though, the idea that stuck with me the most was that every one us, regardless of our health status or mobility are only "abled" for a limited time. Most of us become elderly, some of us are met with accidents or changes in our health status. There isn't anything that a city or building adjusts for accommodation that most of us won't need at some point.

Interesting question.
posted by rumposinc at 6:46 PM on September 14, 2009 [25 favorites]

In addition to the disabled, the demand was also driven by an increasing number of elderly and others who wished improved access. Those of us with bicycles, strollers, greater girth or sports injuries benefit from those who have fought this fight for public places to have elevators, escalators, larger bathrooms, push doors, handrails, etc.

At the risk of a derail, I appreciate OP's effort to become educated on the issue. For this particular issue, the debate over the need is pretty much over but the debate over the degree and speed of the accommodation process continue. Back and forth discussions leading to mutual education and consensual expectations need to be part of the public debate, especially in this era of increasing demand and limited funds. A "spare no expenses" approach will feasibly lead to an increasing debt whereas "an every person for himself" borders on heartless. Cost-benefit analysis and public opinion is at least a starting point to determine use of limited funds. Believe me, if you don't speak up to in let the government know what is an appropriate use of public funds, some other group will be perfectly happy to either claim to speak for you or to claim the greater need for *their* project.
posted by beaning at 6:50 PM on September 14, 2009

Response by poster: you know, you really did frame this in a way that is likely to draw some antagonism.

I apologized and apologize again.

I admit I was looking at the numbers and the sums of money that are going into this initiative, wondering how many people the elevators retrofit would really help, and (in the back of my mind) wondering whether the same money would not better be spent on environmental improvements. I suppose I am not also wondering why the subject is so touchy that it must not be questioned on any account, but that will get me into murky water, won't it.
posted by zadcat at 6:51 PM on September 14, 2009

When, where, why did the notion begin that society must spare no expense to accommodate the disabled?

This is a classic example of a straw man--textbook. As a US employment attorney, I have never seen asserted in any forum, anywhere, that "society must spare no expense to accomodate the disabled."

Instead, US law, and almost certainly all disability rights laws balance expense versus the rights of citizens to be able to access public facilities.

This makes sense, of course, because the disabled aren't weaklings who society is propping up. They are taxpayers and citizens as such, they have every right to use the public facilities that their tax dollars have paid for. Remember also that the vast majority of the disabled are persons who at one time were able, did their jobs, paid their taxes, and have gotten older and less mobile.

More importantly however, is the idea that for a nation to be able to move forward, it must work to try and utilize the productive capacities of all of those who wish to participate in civil society. People with mobility limitations are often quite capable of producing plenty to move the society forward. Take the oft-used example of Dr. Stephen Hawking, whose brilliant mind still moves science forward despite near total disability.

I also think your self-interest would play a role in supporting making facilities accessible. Most who oppose accomodations due to cost have no need for them. However, they wrongfully assume that they will permanently be able to walk and get around with ease. This most certainly is unlikely. Like the rest of human beings, your body will break down and you will be far less mobile when you are older. These expenses will then benefit you directly. They benefit your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents today.

However, the strongest argument is this:

"And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother?
And he said, "I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground."
posted by Ironmouth at 6:54 PM on September 14, 2009 [22 favorites]

ack, sorry, should have previewed - please ignore me.
posted by mdn at 6:58 PM on September 14, 2009

Accessible buildings also have huge implications not just for the disabled, but for everybody, as explained by the Universal Design movement: Elevators don't just help those in wheelchairs, they help mothers with strollers, shoppers with push-carts or big boxes, maintenance workers, or just the guy who's tired at the moment. Similarly, closed captioning on TV is a boon to anyone who's ever watched a sport in a loud bar or to TV clipping services, which use the captions to index the content of programs. Larger handicapped-accessible stalls in restrooms are useful to parents or people with large luggage as well as those in wheelchairs. "Good Grips" cooking tools help those with limited dexterity, but also make it easier for all of us to cook. Curb cuts on the sidewalks are darn helpful to anyone who has ever had to move heavy things on wheels to/from the street. On the web, accessibility features like alt attributes not only help the blind receive information from images, but also makes image data more accessible to search engines. Speech-to-text software lets anyone dictate to their computers, not just those who cannot use a keyboard. Instant and text messaging on cell phones isn't just a teen fad, it's a way for deaf and mute individuals to communicate naturally and privately with others, using the same methods hearing and speaking people use. The list goes on and on.

In short, many of the improvements we make for accessibility aren't exclusively limited to that domain. Rather, access improvements help everybody by making the world a little bit easier of a place to navigate and exposing information in multiple media.

And if that doesn't persuade you, the likelihood of becoming disabled at some point in your life is pretty darn high. If nothing else, there's always the self-preservationist motive for improving accessibility: because you'll need it someday.
posted by zachlipton at 6:59 PM on September 14, 2009 [12 favorites]

From the CCD website linked above: Moving Backwards: Canada's State of Transportation Accessibility in an International Context
posted by kowalski at 7:11 PM on September 14, 2009

Well, think of it this way: how's a handicapped person going to get up the stairs of the courthouse in order to do jury duty? It's an inconvenience both ways to have people unable to get places.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:20 PM on September 14, 2009

Try walking around on crutches for a couple of days and you will have a very different take on just how much expense we are sparing to accommodate the disabled (the world is not all that accessible, even for me, who wasn't all that disabled), but that said, when I moved to Urbana Illinois in 1969, they were way out in the forefront on accessibility and all they'd done was put sidewalk ramps at street corners. So it hasn't been all that long.
posted by nax at 7:21 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

What I would tell my three-year-old if he asked that question: because it's the nice thing to do.
posted by zardoz at 7:25 PM on September 14, 2009

I wouldn't rule out the fact that anyone lucky enough to grow old is likely to experience impairments to mobility and the senses. That, and old people vote.
posted by Good Brain at 8:12 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The argument that is often made about the specific improvements that zadcat is referring to -- and I can't offhand find the editorials about this -- is that for the amount of money being paid, and given the time it will take, and given the problems with maintenance in general, there are more effective uses of the money (improving access to the bus system, both regular and restricted to people with disabilities), and why is "allowing everyone to use the metro system in particular" a better choice than "allowing everyone to use the public transit system in general"? (I still want to know why, in the Lionel-Groulx station, there are escalators from the main level to the ticket booth level, and between the two train levels, but only stairs from the train level to the ticket booth level. However.)

People come down on both sides of this question, but it's generally about what the best way is to make public transit more accessible (at least, what I've read about it goes along those lines, and not "why waste money on the disabled?" I don't mean to imply that zadcat is suggesting that improving access for disabled people is a waste of money in general).
posted by jeather at 8:30 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm failing to understand why you question the cost of an elevator only usable by some vs. an elevator that everyone can use.

Not sure I understand this point. The elevators will be slow compared to using stairs or elevators so while they will indeed be used by the disabled, and be useful to anyone pushing a stroller or encumbered with parcels, most people won't choose to use them. (They don't in Laval, where the elevators were included in the original plans.)
posted by zadcat at 8:45 PM on September 14, 2009

This whole notion of "expending a lot of money for just a very few people" is a myth. It reminds me of Clint Eastwood's rant about his Carmel(?) resort getting sued for lack of wheelchair access, and he said, "but no people in wheelchairs ever come here, so why should I build a ramp that lets them in the door" (paraphrase).

The fact is this is entirely about universal access and civil rights, and not anything about "special treatment for special people." Along with ramps and elevators and the like being better for delivery drivers, parents with strollers and small children, etc. the fact is that 84% of us will become disabled at least for some portion of our lifetime. (Those who don't generally are those who walk down the sidewalk and die of a heart attack or get hit by a car.) You will likely need and utilize some of these access features in your lifetime and know many people who will. It is better for society as a whole to keep people employed, independent, tax-paying consumers than to keep them locked out of society. And it is simply the right thing to do from a civil rights perspective.

I am not familiar with Montreal but am very familiar with Toronto. And it always has struck me as extremely odd that a country who values things like universal health coverage and parental leave, child care subsidies and other such social programs was so behind when it comes to enforceably disability access. I'm not sure why that is except that the US perhaps just has a larger and stronger advocacy group of disabled civil rights leaders. I know that things are slowly changing in Canada, but as a disabled American who spends part of my year in TO, it can't change quickly enough.
posted by Bueller at 9:03 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

the debate over the need is pretty much over but the debate over the degree and speed of the accommodation process continue

the next level is making the web accessible to the blind, ie limiting textless presentation.

In the scheme of things installing elevators in stations isn't that big a deal. When I was living in Tokyo in the 90s they had station employees physically carry the disabled down the stairs of the older stations, but AFAIK they've been upgrading their infrastructure. The Japanese, as in everything, have a special term for this: "barrier-free". Much better nuance than "accomodating".
posted by Palamedes at 9:06 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, note to jeather in regards to public transit access vs. subway access. I know that in Toronto, their solution right now is WheelTrans para transit. And let me tell you, paratransit is not equal access, it is not equitable service and it is segregated which is in effect not equal. The fact is, the subways should have been made accessible at the get go and they were not. That needs to be corrected as soon as possible.

Why should I have to say, call ahead every day to schedule paratransit to get to work, say by 9 and then have to leave a two hour window for them to pick me up and waste a two hour commute (by either waiting around the window or driving around with all the other folks on para transit) to get somewhere where the subway might get me in 20 minutes. Then reverse that on the way home, and not ever be able to modify my schedule i.e. work late, have dinner with friends at the last minute, run an errand on the way home, etc.? That is not equal access. It is hard enough to compete in the work force and integrate into social communities when you can only use transit vs. those with cars. Not allowing a segment of the population on certain aspects of transit (especially something as major as the subway system) is a civil rights violation.

By the way, as a nondriver, I could say the same about highway infrastructure expenses, parking lots and structures, and other expenses paid for by the government that supplement people's driving habits. I don't drive, it's not that great for the environment, so why spend all that money that could go to transit? But I don't say that because I know that many people need their cars because of their work or life situation, or just prefer them. I think people really need to think hard about criticizing a public service simply because they, personally, don't benefit from it.
posted by Bueller at 9:13 PM on September 14, 2009 [9 favorites]

Zadcat: "The elevators will be slow compared to using stairs so ... most people won't choose to use them"

You are correct about that from a purely quantitative viewpoint. But public policy is not formed solely on the basis of usage or cost/benefit efficiencies.

Whether it be the Canadian Charter of Rights, the U.S. Bill of Rights or any other country's equivalent document, national goals and aspirations develop over time and gradually evolve to include implied rights beyond the very limited express rights of the original document. If you look at this historically across national boundaries, the trend is for actual founding documents to become more specific as history and humankind progresses. For example, look at the actual wording of the Magna Carta compared to the U.S. Bill of Rights compared to the Canadian Charter of Rights, as a simple example. I would suggest that the reason the Canadian Charter of Rights is as specific as it is, is because it's the historically most recent document (of the above 3 documents in my example) and therefore its authors had the benefit of history. As society becomes more advanced and developed, our notion of what is "fair and right" (in the generic sense) likewise becomes more developed, and therefore more specific. In this respect, the issue of gay marriage that is being played out right now here in the U.S. is really just a continuation (albeit highly politically charged) of the evolution of the definition of marriage that began thousands of years ago.

It's probably also a function of technological possibility; that is, as we become more adept at finding easy ways to be inclusive, we tend to begin to incorporate those methods more often. After a while, they become ubiquitous (i.e., brail numbering on an elevator button) to the point of being the normal condition.
posted by webhund at 9:26 PM on September 14, 2009

Consider also the curb cut. It was a piece of sidewalk technology installed in most cities at no small expense in order to make it possible for people who use wheelchairs to use the sidewalk. But it turns out that curb cuts are completely great: They're great for bicyclists who need to use the sidewalk for whatever reason, they're great for using those little rolly-carts or dollies, etc. Similarly, whenever I've taken the train to the airport, I've appreciated the fact that now there are elevators in many subway and train stations! I could lug it up all those stairs, but now I don't have to. And, if someday my legs should stop working, that will be handy too. Diversifying access for people with diverse needs turns out to allow diverse unexpected possibilities!

You're right, though, about how money could and should be spent on making public transit more environmentally friendly, which would be a public boon. But then, I know that where I used to live (Portland) put money into that as well; I have no idea how common it is within older transit systems.
posted by Casuistry at 9:36 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

As a pre (or partially?) disabled person, I echo the points above about curb cuts, etc. I'd say almost weekly I'm "convenienced" by an "accommodation" made for the disabled. Yes, curb cuts help me and braille signs don't (yet), but on balance my life is enriched and made easier by disability activism, and certainly will be in the future.
posted by Mngo at 9:52 PM on September 14, 2009

I've always found it bizarre that the USA spends so much money/effort/attention on disabled access, from millions of curb cuts to accessible bathrooms and entire reams of state and federal law... but doesn't think that even able-bodied people are necessarily entitled to basic health care.

(In case my tone is not obvious, I think both are stone cold basics for any civilized society.)
posted by rokusan at 9:59 PM on September 14, 2009

Palamedes, the Americans with Disabilities Act also uses the phraseology "barrier-free environment" and "barrier-free architecture."
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:42 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Typo above: I should've written "The elevators will be slow compared to using stairs or escalators".

Thanks all for responses. I have decided not to mention this point at all in my blog, but am chastened and enlightened by points that have been made.
posted by zadcat at 6:01 AM on September 15, 2009

Bueller, it makes me so happy to see something for the public good that the US does better than Canada. You made my day.

zadcat, can't tell how old you are, but if you are under or around 30, you probably have little memory of a world in which you MIGHT see the occasional blind person, but you literally NEVER saw the obviously developmentally disabled or people permanently in wheelchairs, and seldom saw amputees in public places (this at a time when there were a lot of WWII and Vietnam vets who were amputees). Because they couldn't get around. This means they weren't in the stores shopping, they weren't using public facilities like libraries, they weren't voting, or going to school, or going to work or in fact participating in society or contributing to the economy. My guess is that over the long run investing public resources in what has to be a significant percentage of the populace is going to pay for itself. Further, being able now to see the "disabled" as a normal part of a normal day is one of the things that gives me, personally, hope that our society is headed in the right direction, all evidence to the contrary.
posted by nax at 6:21 AM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Hi there. My current job involves construction management for an NGO which provides services for people who:
-live in communities without necessary mobility assistance
-wish to live life on their own terms, out of places like Nursing Homes when possible
-do not necessarily have the money to make these things happen.

I spend $300,000 a year on these modifications to homes and vehicles, plus another $150,000-$300,000 billing medicare, community development block grants, housing authorities, etc. I serve 20 counties in 1 state. My number one service item is ramps, but we do bathroom mods, vehicle mods, hearing aides, glasses, etc.

See, in the US, you get this piece of paper every year telling you how much you could expect to make each month from SSI or SSDI if you became permanently disabled and unable to work. For most americans, even after working their entire lives, that sum is UNDER $700 a month, and you might get $150 a month in food stamps.

Surprisingly, if we can help them live in their homes, it's less expensive on the "system" than if we stuck them in a persistent care facility. I'll drop $7,000 on a ramp that will enable the consumer to live (and probably die) in his or her own home, and they'll continue to survive on their $636 a month indefinitely. Or, we can put them into a home on an old-age/disability waiver (Medicare) and let that cost ramp up to $2000-$4000 a month while we make their life absolutely miserable.

Fuck, in this state, we (as in the state) will NOT house anyone who requires a ventilator, which is fucked up because of all the people with pollution and work related lung issues. (Black lung, mesothelioma, etc.) If you are under states care and require a ventilator, the state agency will find a rest home in ANOTHER STATE and ship you there, regardless of where your family is or what you actually want. We've got a lady right now who was just packaged up and sent 7 hours away from her friends, family, and church because the state of West Virginia wouldn't keep her on a ventilator. We're fighting to change the law, but we have to prove it's cost NEUTRAL to change it. Well duh, if they're in a care facility, it's not ever gonna be cost neutral.

I've got another guy who disappeared for a while, we couldn't find him. Turns out he was in a federal penitentiary in California. Only he wasn't. Some dude in cali got put away, had the same birthdate and an SSN 1 digit off. They typoed it. So my consumer's social security check stops coming, his medicare ceases to work, all benefits suspended, and the onus is on him to prove them wrong. As you can imagine, everyone assumed he was a con trying to run a game. Also, he's visually impaired and lives alone, because after working a full long hard independent life, he doesn't want to be a drain. He doesn't want a nurse, because he can and is doing it on his own. Can you freaking IMAGINE?

See, here's the thing. We help people because they're people, because it's the right thing to do. Absolutely costs could be mitigated and things like $30,000 power chairs are overpriced. The point is that you can't put a value on peoples lives---and you can't (seriously, can you?) say that we should just let them die or shrivel up in a care facility where their access to the world is limited to what they see out a tempered glass window.

So what that your city is gonna drop a couple million on some elevators? How much did they spend making your roads less potholey? Adding seats to your stadium? On your shiny new state building? On 10,000 other projects that not only don't help those folks but instead directly help YOUR life?

To address your puerile snark, it's a touchy subject because it's a eugenics debate. You're suggesting, whether you like it or not, that once you stop becoming a contributing member to society, that society should stop paying attention to you. (Seriously, that's pretty much how it is already.) I truly truly hope that you never have to endure the physical pain, the poverty, and the limited access to community that so many Americans and Canadians (and people around the world) deal with every day. Especially as they watch your upwardly mobile self take it all for granted.
posted by TomMelee at 6:40 AM on September 15, 2009 [11 favorites]

zardoz: "What I would tell my three-year-old if he asked that question: because it's the nice thing to do."

"Nice" implies something's being done as a favor.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:58 AM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Not sure I understand this point. The elevators will be slow compared to using stairs or elevators so while they will indeed be used by the disabled, and be useful to anyone pushing a stroller or encumbered with parcels, most people won't choose to use them. (They don't in Laval, where the elevators were included in the original plans.)"

The Elevator Is Only Slower Than The Stairs If You Can Descend The Stairs Faster Than The Elevator.

If you have crutches, a cane, a bad hip that needs to be replaced, a chronic pain issue, or ANY condition that limits your mobility, an elevator is going to be faster than the epic staircases in most Montreal metro stations. I mean, I live near the St. Henri metro, and it's two staircases to get to the platform, one of which is the equivalent length of about two stories. It's not just an inconvenience for people with limited mobility; it's straight up inaccessible. We're talking about a public system that for all intents and purposes enforces segregation by denying access to an entire demographic of the population.

I might stipulate that the reason people don't use the elevator so much at the Laval metro is because there's only one other metro that had an elevator included in the original plans, so unless they're going to that one specific metro stop that also has an elevator (it's... Atwater, right?), people with significantly limited mobility can't actually go anywhere from Laval using the metro. I mean, I guess they could just ride the elevator up and down for funsies, but seriously. This is basic cause and effect. More accessibility = more ridership of the metro = more money brought in by the metro system = EVERYONE WINS.

To more directly address you question, well, I use the metro system in Montreal regularly and I honestly think that it's a serious clusterfuck. Like, I honestly don't think that fixing the accessibility issues of the metro stations is even reflective of any ideology so much as it is basic common sense - though I suppose a selective lack of common sense in areas that specifically effect the lives of disabled people does betray a certain ideology anyway, even if it's an unconscious one.
posted by ellehumour at 8:23 AM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm failing to understand why you question the cost of an elevator only usable by some vs. an elevator that everyone can use.

perhaps he's thinking more along the lines of projects like the wheelchair ramps they build in the simpsons when bart breaks his butt-bone. By the time the ramps are completed (made by the mafia out of breadsticks, "all itemized here in our bill"), Bart is already out of the wheelchair, and no one else needs the ramp.
posted by nomisxid at 9:12 AM on September 15, 2009

just to add a datapoint in opposition to the "spare no expense" quote: current accessibility codes in the USA do require accessibility modifications to existing private buildings whenever a remodel is undertaken, but they cannot require modifications costing in excess of 20% of the total cost of the remodel. They encourage accessibility, but they are also pragmatic about it, promoting incremental improvements. The specific situation you're talking about, though, is a little different; public-owned buildings are required to be accessible, period. Still, that doesn't mean that they spare no expense. It means they spend what they need to, to make buildings accessible. It also probably involves PR opportunities for some public officials, and I'm sure that doesn't hurt.
posted by Chris4d at 11:48 AM on September 15, 2009

From a more practical standpoint, I agree that many changes began in the 1970's. I always thought the movement began because of the high number of Viet Nam veterans that returned to us in wheelchairs. I remember very clearly that they were on the forefront of the movement. They had just sacrificed so much, but could not even get into the VA hospitals in their wheelchairs. Not to mention anywhere else. I remember a LOT of news coverage about how restricted they were in their movements.
posted by raisingsand at 1:06 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

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