Wheelchaired activists demand access rights

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Street theater drew the attention of passers-by to a demonstration Jan. 13 by 45 wheelchaired people and their supporters protesting the launching of an initiative that would deny access rights to Californians with disabilities.

Black-coated, top-hatted villains representing the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) and the California Restaurant Association (CRA) used orange plastic bats to clobber wheelchaired demonstrators who loudly proclaimed, “You can’t have our rights! We won’t let you keep us out!”

The rally in front of the Sacramento offices of the CBIA and CRA protested the proposed “Opportunity to Repair Act of 2006,” which would eliminate the right of people with disabilities to sue for damages for discrimination or personal injury when they cannot enter a public building or use its facilities, such as a restroom.

“The voters of California would never vote to force Rosa Parks back to the back of the bus,” said Laura Williams, president of Californians for Disability Rights.

Security guards would not allow disability rights advocate Terrell Terry, who entered the office building in her wheelchair, to take the elevator to the CRA office on the 12th floor. They locked the lobby entrance, allowing only “walkies” to enter, reported disability rights activist Susan Barnhill.

Barring people with disabilities from using public restrooms is an act of discrimination that has been illegal in California since 1968. But the initiative would change disability access code violations into “construction defects” and require the complainant to pay the costs of lawyers, experts, and negotiators.

The initiative would also eliminate the current statutory 90-day time limit to correct disability access violations after they have been reported.