Tuesday, June 19, 2012

All Journeys Begin with a First Step

A lot goes into the decision to start a new project, so calling this a first step might be a misnomer. But at some point one moves from thinking about something to doing something. This website/blog is that moment.

We've lived in Las Vegas for five and a half years now. When we came here, Pattie had to walk with a cane but she was mobile. Carl had a couple of inklings of sun sensitivity but no major ailment, certainly not chronically.

Now Pattie uses a scooter to go places because the damage in her foot (injured in 2004) has become debilitating and Carl became ill in 2008 and was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2009. We are a CWD (Couple with Disabilities). We have had to take care of each other in new ways.

When faced with disabling illnesses and injuries, the first thing most people notice is that the world is not built for them. There are barriers to mobility that TAB (temporarily able-bodied) people rarely notice. Life with pain and life from a scooter are lived differently than life on two strong legs.

Las Vegas is an interesting place to live. When we arrived, Carl derived some of our income from gambling. (Yes, he was that good.) This required him to walk. A lot. He gave up this source of income after getting ill, but he may have done so anyway. Things in Vegas have changed. It is harder for anyone to make a living in Vegas as a gambler. This so-called recession has been an excuse to homogenize Las Vegas. Our joke name, at times, is that it is Los Angeles East, because the strip is all about clubs and shopping instead of gambling, cheap eats and a great place to stay for less.

But we remind ourselves also to wait five minutes. Vegas is always reinventing itself. Maybe not five minutes, but who knows what it will be like in five years. Since we've been here, the Palazzo, the Encore and City Center have been added to the strip. The Frontier, the Stardust and the Sahara have been closed, with the first two having been demolished. The Tropicana, the Flamingo and the Riveria majorly refurbished. Downtown has seen the renovations of the Golden Nugget and the Plaza. Off-strip has seen the building of the Trump, the Eastside Cannery, the M Resort and the Alliante Station.

Those are just the major gaming changes. A number of office buildings, high rise and loft apartments and housing developments have also been built. Even after the housing crash in 2008, new home builds, apartment complexes, condos and high rise apartments continue to be built.

The above is just the past five years. If you want to date things from the passage of the ADA in July 1990, the list is amazing. Highlights include: MGM Grand,  Casino Royale, Excalibur, Bellagio,  Luxor, Treasure Island,  Statosphere, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Venetian, Mandalay Bay, Paris, and Wynn.

We believe you would be hard pressed to find a newer city. With so much of the business district in this town being built since 1990, we are left wondering:  

Why is Las Vegas still full of barriers to mobility?

Trust us (and anyone else who sits when they negotiate the sidewalks, passage ways and buildings of Las Vegas), this place is far from accessibility heaven.

When we say this to our TAB friends, they are shocked. "But I see ramps and entrances all over the place?!?!" When we say this to our fellow mobility-challenged travelers, we get nods and then we get stories. Lots of stories. Dead ends. Entrances that would have scared Evel Knievel. Doors that are too heavy to open. Bumps and cracks and dips and other topographical features that leave one aching and could be dangerous for paraplegics. The taking of one's life into one's own hands, wheeling in traffic.

Then there are the other problems for people who have troubles but are not on wheels. Long hallways and walkways from parking decks to restaurants and gaming areas with no benches to help. Confusing valet parking that make one walk considerable distances to find cars that were left at one place but picked up at another. Long lines at buffets with no place to sit and wait.

All this adds up to a town that is difficult to get around in if you are older, have mobility challenges or deal with pain, or, it is important to note, love people who face such challenges. Other cities claim that their noncompliance to ADA standards have to do with retrofitting. Older buildings are difficult to transform into accessible havens. Vegas has a hard time making that argument.

What this means is that Las Vegas is a perfect case study to understand what else needs to change besides the law. 

So that is the journey. We want to get our camera out, go looking in our neighborhoods and talking to our neighbors (and a few experts along the way) to figure out why a city mostly built since the passage of the most comprehensive law ever written to create accessibility for people facing mobility challenges is still suffering from barriers.

It is Vegas, baby! So we hope to have some fun along the way and meet some cool people and learn some things. We also hope this serves to provide a better understanding about highfalutin' stuff like "social empathy," "stigma" and "organizational structure." Did we mention, it's Vegas? Look for neon and glitz and sex and kitsch and glamor and over-the-top, bigger-than-life, roller-coasting good times as well. We like living here and we want that to show.

All journeys begin with a single step. This one promises to be quite the trip. We hope you will join us and stay aboard until the end.

We will track the journey right here.  Come back from time to time and see how it is going. 

--Pattie and Carl
SINdustry CITY