Somerville, MA, March 29, 2012:
The City of Somerville’s Health Department Director, Paulette Renault-Caragianes, has published a “Letter to the Editor” in response to Somerville’s Curtatone Prevented from Hosting U.S. Surgeon General at Inaccessible Armory . Her 8-paragraph piece, which was published online two days ago, is also in today’s print edition of the Somerville Journal, as a “Guest Commentary.”
Ms. Renault-Caragianes’ letter is a cover-up on behalf of Mayor Curtatone and designed to distort the facts about why State officials had to quickly step in to relocate the U.S. Surgeon General‘s visit to the Ville last Friday, March 23, 2012, for the official launch event of the Middlesex County’s health wellness and prevention initiative called “Mass in Motion.”
DisAbility rights activists will be sending responses to the Somerville Journal in time for next week’s printed edition; this post is written to make sure that the public is in possession of verifiable facts.
LET’S REVIEW THE FACTS, MA’AM:
In the eight-paragraph letter, the Somerville Health Department Director:
- makes a false statement twice;
- accuses me of using “unfair tactics” and “deceptive assaults;”
- states that I have made claims that are “untrue information” and “half truths;”
- insinuates that the non-profit Arts at the Armory has had a hand in deliberately misleading State officials to hold this event in that inaccessible location;
- insinuates that State officials were “misled” to believe that the issue was more “serious”, “dire” and prohibitive than [the City of Somerville believes] it really was; and,
- enters a novel concept into the general public’s mind, called “insignificant inaccessibility.”
- She ends the piece with the insinuation that the very naming of inaccessibility issues should give rise to a belief that this is a deceptive tactic that will undermine the cause of increasing access for all.
- makes a false statement twice:
In paragraph 6 she states, “it’s also true that the Armory was and is operating under a valid variance from the AAB” and in paragraph 8 restates “operating under valid AAB variances.”
Here’s the facts, Ma’am:
November, 2009: the Armory owners and architect, with City of Somerville Building Inspector sign-off, request a massachusetts Architectural Access Board (MAAB) Variance to waive requirements for that entrance ramp, which should be the standard 8.3% slope maximum, but, they claim, is 9.8% instead. They say, it’s a historic feature, it makes the Armory entrance look like a moat, yeah? The MAAB grants the Variance.
March- May 24, 2010: MAAB receives photodocumentation providing evidence that the entrance ramp is 13.4% at the door, 12.8% at the intercom; and- where was that 9.8% measurement?-9.8% at the very foot of the ramp (where one of the the automatic door openers is located). After a Hearing on May 24, 2010, the MAAB publishes a Decision which cites 8 Violations including the Entrance Ramp and Entrance Threshold; and continues several other issues TBD during a site inspection.
This Decision voids the prior Variance, because it had been granted on false information.
December 2010: The Armory architect submits a design for the ramp, which will be nearly compliant, he says, at 8.5% The MAAB grants a Variance for 8.5%.
FACT: From the time the Armory opened, until at least March 27, 2012, the Armory has never been operating under any valid Variance that allowed a slope greater than 9.8% on that ramp. This facility’s owners have been operating with known premises liabilities since the May 24, 2010 Hearing. (see also: Armory First Notice, issued April 23, 2010.)
To verify these facts: please contact the State Architectural Access Board, Mr. Thomas Hopkins, Executive Director, MA Architectural Access Board, One Ashburton place, Room 1310, Boston, MA 02108. 617-727-0660 and make an appointment to review the administrative file for: AAB Docket #V09-197 and C10-059, The Armory 191 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA. (for example: Check out the documentation on the ramp slopes from the MAAB site visit, July 2, 2010.)
- accuses me of using “unfair tactics” and “deceptive assaults”
The CAPS email that Ms. Renault-Caragianes quotes is here.
When we received the MAPC event announcement, our strategy was to immediately jump into action, by presenting the bare-bones truth – all verifiable with State files and online documents- to EOHHS officials.
Our goal was to prevent the U.S. Surgeon General event in Somerville from being launched in a facility that would exclude persons using wheelchairs and other mobility and ambulatory devices.
Ms. Renault-Caragianes has characterized the use of verifiable facts as being an “unfair tactic and a “deceptive assault.” Who were we assaulting, exactly?
- states that I have made claims that are “untrue information” and “half truths”
The CAPS email that Ms. Renault-Caragianes quotes is here.
We’ve stated that the Armory is inaccessible at the door, due to the excessively steep ramp plus an excessively steep door threshold.
There are no “half-truths” nor “untruths” here. These statements are verified by the MAAB’s Decisions, Orders and Site Visit Documentation, found in the file for AAB Dockets #V09-197 and C10-059, for the Armory, 191 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA.
Ms. Renault-Caragianes’ statement that “persons with mobility disabilities can, and do, currently access the building” is an indignity to persons with ambulatory and mobility disAbilities, who should, by this time, be enjoying reasonable and confident expectations that the City of Somerville- a Federally -funded local government entity- will only choose to hold programs, services and events at facilities that are, at the very least, minimally adhering to architectural access code.
An inaccessible facility is a facility that is not accessible to, functional for, and safe for use, by persons with disAbilities.
It’s as simple- and truthful- as that.
- insinuates that the non-profit Arts at the Armory has had a hand in deliberately misleading State officials to hold this event in that inaccessible location
In her last paragraph, the City of Somerville Public health Department Director states that I, and CAPS, has made “misleading and deceptive assaults on non-profits like Arts at the Armory…”
It was the City of Somerville that intentionally planned this event to be held at an inappropriate facility. Does the City’s Health Director now wish that AATA (and other nonprofits like it) should share the blame?!
- insinuates that State officials were “misled” to believe that the issue was more “serious”, “dire” and prohibitive than [the City of Somerville believes] it really was
In the 6th paragraph of her piece, the City of Somerville Public Health Department Director opens with, “Given how serious this sounds, it’s no wonder state officials felt it would be appropriate to move the event.”
Well, we now know that the City of Somerville considers outright intentional discrimination on the basis of disAbility to be a trivial event, that carries no dire consequences; and, is merely an insignificant problem that prohibits the inclusion of a very minor, insignificant class of individuals.
But, State officials, who also verified the information with the MAAB, immediately jumped into action- with less than 48 hours to go- to explicitly ensure that no Massachusetts resident would be excluded from, nor denied the benefit of, opportunity to participate in this event.
Why’d they do it?
Simple: The information was verified as true… They knew the right next thing to do.
Kudos! to: Executive Office of Health & Human Services (EOHHS) Secretary JudyAnn Bigby, Assistant Secretary Christine Griffin, EOHHS Office of Disability Policy and Programs, Executive Director Thomas Hopkins, MAAB, Commissioner John Auerbach, Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), Eileen Sullivan, Senior Program Director, Office of the Commissioner, DPH- who really did all the work to get the event changed, and to Stacey Monahan, EOHHS Chief of Staff who had the great idea to get the T to provide a shuttle service to and from this event.
- enters a novel concept into the general public’s mind, something like, ”insignificant inaccessibility”
In the last paragraph, the Somerville’s Health Director poses a novel concept: ”institutions that may have legitimate accessibility issues but are not significantly “inaccessible” “
Accessibility is determined element by element. If an element is not accessible to the user, it is a significant detriment- it is a barrier to their participation, function and use. How would the Somerville Director feel if every time she entered the City Hall Annex, she slipped on those front stairs because they lacked proper nosing? Would that feel like a significant or insignificant barrier? What about if: every time a person came to work, she had to ask for help just to turn the doorknob to open her office door? Would that small-sized detail be considered a significant, or an insignificant, accessibility concern to the user?
And, after all, if these were such insignificant details: why has it taken nearly two years to remedy them?
- She ends the piece with the insinuation that the very naming of inaccessibility issues should give rise to a presumption that these are deceptive tactics designed to undermine the very cause of increasing access for all
The Community Access Project based out of Somerville, MA is an all-volunteer organization of persons of all ages, living with disAbilities, and working to ensure that equity, integration and accessibility are not merely rhetorical promises made to ensure continued funding and nodding heads. We provide surveys, recommendations and reports, per the requests of very low-income community members (who may remain anonymous), to promote and increase documentation and actions towards more inclusive community planning and implementation.
That’s what we do.
We make mistakes, too. And when that happens, we acknowledge our mistakes.
So, here’s one correction the Health Director has pointed out- and I and CAPS thank her:
I stated that the Armory owners are “currently paying a fine.” The City of Somerville Health Department Director has helpfully pointed out that: they’re not actually paying that fine yet (it’s been tolling since 10/31/11 at $500/day, see Armory Fine Decision, issued November 15, 2011); and, they “may seek to have [the accumulating fine amount] abated.”
Thank you for that correction, Somerville Health Department Director. I respect that this was not an insignificant detail to the user.
- Finally, the City of Somerville’s Public Health Department Director ties all that into a (k)not – by threatening that, because of such “tactics”, her agency finds it “more difficult” to be working with me and the Community Access Project on “long-term accessibility issues.”
Clearly, the City of Somerville officials have much to be embarrassed about. Despite the information provided to the Mayor Curtatone on May 28, 2010 (and his ample opportunities to call up the MAAB and verify these issues for himself), this Mayor has continued to roll out new programs, services and events at the Armory without a pause. For example, after we informed him that the Armory should be off-limits to any local government-sponsored event, he announced the first seasons of the Shape Up Somerville Winter Farmer’s Market at the Armory, in December 2010. We continue to be taught this ongoing lessen: Villens with disAbilities are simply a devalued constituency to this Mayor.
Although the City of Somerville isn’t capable of acknowledging their mistake, they’ve chosen this action instead: to retaliate.
The Health Department Director’s published letter provides Villens with a good example of how this Somerville administration generates retaliation against residents and civil rights organizations who step up to call out forms of discrimination, including outright intentional exclusion, segregation, and relegation to lesser services, activities, benefits, events, jobs and other opportunities.
Americans with disAbilities have every right to enjoy the blessed liberties that all Americans expect. Among those blessed liberties is this one: the freedom to lead and participate in any local-government-sponsored event, program and service that is offered to the general public, without undue scrutiny, marginalization or segregation; and using the same or equivalent readily available conditions, time, and place as are provided to all other members of the public.
Last week, we prevented a State-operated event from excluding our sisters and brothers. This week, the City of Somerville’s Public Health Department Director responds by seeking to destroy me, and CAPS’ credibility, by using false information and contaminated insinuations- while informing the public how “deeply disappointed” she is in me.
Way to move, Somerville.