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Access to Democratic Party

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Hi all,

A number of years ago, while serving on the Democratic State Committee, I, together with my colleague Jerry Goldfeder, introduced amendments to the By-Laws of the State Democratic Party requiring that all meetings at all levels of the Democratic Party be accessible to persons with disabilities, and banning discrimination in Party affairs based upon a person's disability.

Although this rule has been on the books for the past 20 years or so, it is honored largely in the breach. What is particularly disconcerting is that many Democratic Clubs, despite the presence of many decent individuals sincerely committed to civil and human rights, nevertheless are able to rationalize why they continue to conduct their business in the same discriminatory way.

I was reminded of this recently when a large local Democratic Club held its Mayoral Candidates Forum in a neighborhood church whose front entrance was not accessible.

When a former leader of the Club who had become disabled, complained [that] she was informed by the current leadership that the church was accessible. However, there was no explanation given of what standard of access there was. When she passed by the church, she was told by the caretaker that "I told those people two months ago that we were not accessible!" Furthermore, he went on to state that the bathrooms were not accessible.

It wasn't until the time of the forum that it was learned that there was access through a side door, through several double bolted doors and a vestibule. A wheelchair user was told that the bathroom was down a flight of stairs. (Later, a club leader claimed that there was access to the bathroom through an elevator; however there was no indication of whether the wheelchair user could actually get into the bathroom, whether it had grab bars, or whether the stall was wide enough for a wheelchair).

What is unfortunate about this incident was the lack of clarity and communication in advance about what degree of access there was to the church. Furthermore, there are many other suitable facilities in the neighborhood, including one a block away, which had far greater access. In addition, the user of a motorized wheel chair, who had difficulty accessing a door, was nevertheless accused of maliciously vandalizing the door.

What is sad about this situation is that the Club leadership is composed of people with decent instincts and a record of commitment to human and civil rights.

Nevertheless, their Executive Committee meetings are held in the Club's headquarters, which is inaccessible, and excludes persons with disabilities from participating in leadership positions. They held their recent annual dinner in an inaccessible venue. The club's leadership persists in rationalizing their failure to do the right thing. What's even more disturbing is that I received an anonymous e-mail from a club leader stating that access to club events is an internal club issue, and it was inappropriate of me as an "outsider" to get involved (remember, as the "official" Democratic Club, they represent the Democratic Party in the area).

I was told that as a result of this incident the club has formed a committee, which includes a former District Leader who is a 504 Democratic Club member, to investigate and come up with recommendations for a solution.

We wish them well in this endeavor and hope that other clubs don't wait for a similar incident to do the same.

Marvin Wasserman, President
504 Democratic Club

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