Posted by Ron Goodenow, Ph.D., Rotary Club of Westborough on Sep 12, 2018

As a Rotarian with a life long polio related mobility issue that varies in its intensity now that I am ‘chronologically advantaged’ I have been thrilled to work with my local club, municipal authorities and area businesses to meet Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Our driveways are clearer in the winter, and our public events now have special needs parking. I’ve had wonderful assistant from fellow club members to help me remain active as I face down some new medical issues. So, why this commentary?

As I thought about attending the RI Toronto conference in June I looked to see how accessibility issues were being addressed. What would I confront in terms of getting around and other mobiilty issues. The short answer is that I could find nothing except welcome comments by some hotels on their in-house accessibility features like grab bars in bathrooms. Rotary was totally silent. I therefore decided to stay home. Some fellow Rotarians repeated what I was told after a multidistict conference in Providence last year. “You would not have been comfortable there, Ron. Just too much walking that was never described in advance.”

Ok. There is good news. First, a sage comment from our District 7910 Governor Steve Sager, followed by two good practice examples.

“As medical science helps us live longer, some parts of our bodies don’t function without assistance. If you have ever walked on crutches or been otherwise impaired in your mobility, whether temporarily or permanently, you can get a sense of the challenge for many of our members. We need to be more aware of mobility and access issues in all we do, just as we need to be more aware of the impact our words and actions have on protected classes of citizens. D7910 wants the participation of all our members, including those with mobility issues. To that end, when we have a district event, we endeavor to provide information sothe members can ascertain the level of accessibility of the venue. More importantly, we try to avoid venues that may prove troublesome for our members.”

Were you investigating the 2018 Zone conference in Montreal, here is what you would see in the FAQ section:

* “Who do I contact if I have special needs or a request? If your need pertains to the hotel accommodations, please contact the Hotel Bonaventure. Otherwise, please email General Chair, IPDG Michelle O’Brien @ mobrien@kpunet.net”

In my District 7910 here is what was put on recent registration pages:

* “Rotary District 7910 is committed to helping members and guests with mobility issues and special needs have full access to our events. For accessibility questions for this event, please contact the Doubletree Hotel at (508) 366-5511. “

So where do we go from these helpful practices? You can begin by studying ADA requirements at https://www.ada.gov/For Massachusetts, check out ADA Rights and Grievance Procedures http://www.mass.gov/ago/consumer-resources/your-rights/civil-rights/disability-rights/ada-rights-and-grievance.htmlOur state is very active on this front.

In addition to making sure professionals and business people with needs issues can join Rotary and have fruitful and enjoyable roles in our clubs, we can reach out and stimulate our communities to improve their practices. If your community, state or province is considering new regulations, pitch in with ideas. Be sure to follow Steve’s advice on including accessibility in the planning and marketing of events.

Finally, let's join efforts to get the message up to Rotary International and ask it to encourage or require special needs notifications and appropriate planning. I was thrilled that Steve shared the great piece just written by Shogo Williams-Matsuoka, president-elect, Rotary E-club of Western Australia. Shogo, a wheelchair user, in Rotary Voices (https://blog.rotary.org/2018/08/07/how-accessible-is-your-club/). Shogo not only reminds his Rotarian readers that the world’s population includes a very large number of people with disabilities who are in demographics which normally attract many members, but that our clubs must come to understand barriers posed to potential members with disabilities, which includes access to club information as well as physical impediments. Perhaps an e-club solution is perfect.

I can assure you that key elements of our Four WayTest are in play: We’re telling the truth, all Rotarians are being treated fairly, goodwill is assured, and all of us will benefit. If you have ideas and examples of good practice contact Steve Sager at ssager@sagerlegal.com and Ron Goodenow at ron.goodenow@gmail.com.

My next step will be to share this with RI. What is yours?

Ron Goodenow, Ph.D., Rotary Club of Westborough

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