Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Forgotten. Ignored. Unseen.
That’s how disability advocates say Mayor Tim Keller’s administration has made their population feel and they point to the large metallic sculpture in Civic Plaza as a symbol of the problem, noting that they were not consulted about it and have serious concerns with it.
Members of the Americans with Disabilities Act Advisory Council and National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico gathered in front of the “One Albuquerque” fixture on Saturday morning to rail against the city’s inattention to ADA compliance both past and present.
“I don’t want to stumble upon something and find out that it’s a problem. I’d rather have a seat at the table and say, ‘Hey, I helped come up with a solution for that,’ ” said Tara Chavez, president of the Albuquerque chapter of the NFBNM, as she stood in front of the sculpture.
A visual representation of Mayor Keller’s “One Albuquerque” mantra, the three- dimensional sculpture weighs in at 17,800-pounds and cost the city $53,000, including $39,000 from lodgers’ tax revenue designated for marketing and a $14,000 gift from the National Senior Games organizing committee.
The sculpture has been placed at the corner of Third and Tijeras, near Civic Plaza, and is now set to be moved to different events and locations around the city.
Because of its weight the sculpture cannot be placed on Civic Plaza, which has a parking garage beneath.
Advocates like Chavez have concerns of their own.
“I’m short enough that I could easily have walked up to it, not realizing it’s there, and smashed my head on it – last I checked, steel hurts,” she said.
When members of the NFBNM and ADAAC complained about the risks to the blind and disabled, potted plants were placed around the sculpture’s protrusion as a barrier.
The Keller administration says it’s willing to meet with the NFBNM to address its concerns.
“Our goal is to build an inclusive Albuquerque where everyone is a valued part of the community,” a spokeswoman for Keller’s office said Saturday.
But advocates say the sculpture is just the “steel tip” of the iceberg when it comes to ADA non-compliance issues in the city and their voices have gone unheard for too long.
Karen Cushnyr, an ADA council member, said Keller’s administration has not responded to phone calls or made staff available for discussion on these issues.
The ADAAC’s concerns range from non-compliant bathrooms in City Hall and inadequate or non-existent braille signage in city buildings to ADA violations at Balloon Fiesta and a lack of input into ART station accessibility. Cushnyr said the money spent on the “One Albuquerque” sculpture could have been used to bring several Civic Plaza bathrooms into compliance.
“All we want is a seat at the table, all we want is to be considered first and I hate to say it, but Mayor Keller made a lot of promises in his campaign that we were going to be included in the conversation,” Cushnyr said. “It’s a mindset and it’s an attitude that hasn’t changed yet. Albuquerque hasn’t put forth the money or the goodwill to make that happen.”
The city has been criticized for its failure to address ADA compliance issues even before Keller took office.
In 2017, Albuquerque’s Office of Inspector General issued a report blasting city officials for what it called a “systemic failure” to make city buildings and other infrastructure accessible to people with disabilities, saying that officials appeared to have a “laissez-faire attitude” when it came to complying with the federal civil rights law.
“While progress has been made in compliance with the (American with Disabilities Act), it is insufficient — the city has had over a quarter of a century to comply with the law and there are still thousands of violations,” Inspector General David T. Harper wrote in the report, which was issued in November 2017.”
At the time, then-mayor Richard Berry’s administration disputed the conclusions reached by the IG, saying the city had made ADA compliance a priority for new projects and had been setting aside money to bring existing facilities into compliance.