Chicago Architectural Tour

I really dislike Chicago. It could be the wind, the cold, the inaccessibility, its politics, or some combination thereof. Up until last week, I would say that I hated Chicago. When I discovered I would be going to Chicago on a business trip (for RSA’s regional conference on the Work Innovation and Opportunity Act regulations), I predicted spending the majority of my time holed up in the hotel room, reading something on my iPad.

However, my sister decided to tag along. Despite having lived in the Midwest her entire life, she’d still never been to Chicago at the ripe old age of 25. Goal: Taking her to see the Bean. No reading for me.DSC02265.jpg

After the obligatory photo session at the Bean, we decided to visit Navy Pier. We were thwarted twice, both occasions involving walking down long straights of sidewalk only to reach a curb at the end. As we made our way closer to the lake, I saw a kiosk for architectural boat tours. Were they accessible? No. The only place to load the boat in a wheelchair was at Navy Pier. On the bright side, the kiosk ladies directed us toward the most accessible pathway.

Despite the fact that boat tickets were more expensive at the Pier – $35 a ticket rather than $33 – I’m a nautical nut. If there is a boat ride available, I will find it – even in the middle of Arizona! (True story; ask my sister.)

The boat tour is frankly the reason why I no longer hate Chicago. I learned interesting facts about postmodern architecture, brutalism, and the Chicago Fire. Tour Guide Adam told us heinous stories about the Chicago River, including the fact that it was so filthy it lit during the Fire. He also explained that City officials rerouted the river, so that the filth would flow down to St. Louis rather than into Lake Michigan. (I guess I’m not alone in my dislike of Chicago…)DSC02366.jpg

Anyway, I highly suggest the architectural boat tour for any fans of history, trivia, or boating. While they ramp was not ADA-compliant, it was easy enough for my power wheelchair to get on and off. Wheelchair seating was in a designated section, but was sufficiently spacious for me to turn around and look at buildings and bridges from all angles.DSC02329.jpg

Wheels on Wheels

When you ask people with disabilities about their number one barrier, transportation is a frequent reply. (More than 500,000 people report never leaving their homes due to lack of transportation. For more on this, and other alarming statistics, look here.) In addition to being an American symbol of freedom, personal vehicles are often necessary to maintain employment, social contact, and good health. Public transportation is not available in rural areas, and even city paratransit services often leave those with disabilities waiting for hours. Although urban millennials have been pushing for more universal public transit, legislatures like my own Indiana General Assembly are stuck in old transportation paradigms.

I am fortunate enough to use an accessible vehicle purchased by my parents, a 1999 Chevy Savana, modified by a previous owner. (See here for a lively visual and rap song.) However, we learned in April 2015 that the van would no longer be insured as of April 2016. Apparently it was too old. Thus began the process of trying to get a new adaptive vehicle.

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs exist in every state, a jointly funded state and federal program to help people with disabilities achieve and maintain employment. Where a vehicle is necessary for job success (e.g., one needs a vehicle to drive to work), VR will pay for the cost of vehicle modifications. Unfortunately, VR only purchases the modifications – that is, the lift or ramp, the wheelchair tiedowns, etc. – and the client is responsible for providing the vehicle. Individual VR programs set rules regarding the type of vehicle that they will modify, frequently requiring new or gently-used ones in order to ensure that the modifications will be used for years to come. Effectively, this means that people, who sometimes are not even employed yet, are on the hook to purchase a $30,000 van. Yet, because modifications run upwards of $20,000, going through VR is worth it.

I contacted my local VR office in May 2015 and expressed my desire having my case reopened. The local supervisor stated that a new case would have to be opened, given the expensive nature of my request. Okay… I was then informed that I could get in for an appointment in September, a clear violation of VR regulations. Good thing I’m a lawyer, huh? After some self-advocacy on my part, we finally got the paperwork started.


Today, I finally got my van I named her Clover, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, and because I know how lucky I am to have her. I’m grateful for the financial resources to purchase the Dodge Grand Caravan, and for the taxpayer-funded $22,000 in modifications.

I still wonder what happens to people who are looking for jobs and can’t yet afford the price of a modification-ready vehicle. To my knowledge, no private funding sources currently exist. Some public funding is available to veterans, but not the average cripple. Do you have any creative solutions for the funding of accessible vehicle?