Candidates face questions directly from the Disability Community in Boulder
Wednesday evening nearly all the city council candidates visited CPWD and faced questions directly from the disability community. Transportation, housing, access and attitudes were all areas that the candidates were asked about.
CPWD City Council Voter's Forum
“I thought it was a great opportunity for the candidates to get to know our community,” said Keith Percy of CPWD. “I thought it was great that so many showed up.”
The candidates all felt that the face-to-face was meaningful and educational. Hearing directly from the community was not only a way to challenge the candidates, but people with disability at the event also felt challenged to be more involved in local issues.
Snow removal and curb-ramps were a common theme. One individual asked if the candidates would support including “source of income” as a type of discrimination for the Boulder Human Rights Ordinance. The candidates did not seem aware of this as an issue for the disability community; but with a show of hands about nine people raised their hands to say that they had faced this type of discrimination.
Elaine Senko, the CPWD Development Director asked if the candidates knew if Boulder population of people with disabilities was above or below the national average. No one was sure, but the candidates were surprised to learn that fewer people with disabilities live in Boulder than the national average. Mirroring other marginalized groups, Boulder has a greater number of workers with disabilities which suggests that the city is an accepting place for minorities to work, but a less diverse place to live.
“The most positive outcome was this forum initiated a dialogue with our civic leaders,” said Ian Engle, the Executive Director of CPWD and the moderator of the forum. “The event was well received and there will be follow-up from both the disability community and the city council.”
CPWD City Council Voter's Forum
Daniel Ziskin, Jonathan Hondorf, Kevin Hotaling, Lisa Morzel, Stephen Keenan, Suzanne Jones, Tim Plass, Dan King, Fenno Hoffman, George Karakehian, Ken Wilson and Mark Gelband all came and responded to the communities questions. Only Tom Johnston was not present but he did respond to CPWD initial question with the invitation.
CPWD asked the candidates: “what is your personal experience with disability and how would that impact your tenure on the Boulder City Council?” We sent this question with the invitation to the forum and below are the candidate’s responses:
What is your personal experience with disability and how would that impact your tenure on the Boulder City Council?
George Karakehian - I helped found Imagine Foundation. I was also past president.
Dan King - I have been fortunate in my lifetime and have not had a member of my immediate family have a disability. My most personal experience is with my friend, George Marc Schevene. About six years ago I was approached by George Marc’s wife, Diane, about the possibility of their staying with us at the hotel for a month or two while they were awaiting other accommodations. George Marc had suffered from an infection that had left him with very little muscle control, including the use of any of his limbs and with very little ability to speak. I agreed and six years later, George Marc and Diane still live at the hotel. Diane is our Green Goddess in charge of directing our sustainability efforts.
I have learned a lot from George Marc mainly about the strength of the human spirit and his ability to maintain a positive outlook in the face of devastating circumstances. George Marc has made impressive strides. He is able to travel about town in his electric wheelchair and has regained the ability to communicate verbally. Our paved bike paths are of particular importance to him, as pedestrian crossings at intersections often do not give him adequate time to get across the street.
I think that what I have learned most is that it is not about what we are given in life, it is about what we do with what we are given. George Marc is not a victim. And while he has needs that many of us don’t, he is also able to see things that most of us take for granted. His voices may not be as loud or clear as mine, but it is equally important.
Jonathan Hondorf - I have numerous experiences throughout my life for people with disabilities. I grew up in Southwestern Ohio where my mother’s professional background was dance, choreography and special education. She was the director of the county board of Mental and Physical Disabilities. As a teen, I worked summer jobs at two local county day camps that catered to the physically and mentally challenged. These jobs included lifeguard, swimming instructor, arts and crafts worker, and personal assistant for those that needed additional special physical care. This work and exposure to my mother’s professional career laid the foundation in my formative teen years toward a better understanding and eventual lifelong activism to alter the challenges people with physical and mental issues face on a daily basis. These challenges include not only the physical but also the public perception and interaction.
My professional career for 35 plus years as a building contractor designing and building commercial and residential projects allowed me to be proactive in our built environment. I constructed projects with an eye toward less physical impediments and better environmental sense of place where our mental and physical bodies dwell. My active volunteer leadership roles that I have served in have allowed me to implement proactive projects or events that educated, created or improved the community environment so that all people, regardless of their physical condition, can enjoy. The latest project that I oversaw involved mentoring one of my Boy Scout youth for his Eagle Scout Project. It involved constructing a handicap ramp at the Elks Lodge in Boulder for access to their swimming pool. This helped educate the youth involved as well as meet the needs of the community.
On council I would continue to encourage more proactive engagements, such as the one I describe, and voluntary compliance toward a ‘visitability’ standard in the building community.
Tim Plass - I am fortunate that I am not disabled myself. My experience with disability comes from what my mother has experienced. When I was in junior high school she contracted an infection that permanently affected her balance and left her with very serious vertigo. Because of those issues, she had to stop driving and doing many of the things that she had taken for granted before her illness. Now, thirty-five years later, she has never been able to drive a car again. For my mother, the change in her life was enormous, of course. For my father and me, it meant big changes, too. What I learned from my experience is that you adjust and adapt and get the most out of life. The harder thing is dealing with people who are insensitive or indifferent to people with a disability. For my mother, one of the hardest things is that she has no outward signs of her condition, so it is more challenging for people to understand her situation. As a council member, I will bring a sensitivity to people with disabilities to my consideration of the issues and work to remove barriers to their enjoyment of all our community has to offer.
Suzanne Jones - My personal experience with disability comes mostly from my experience with two family members. My dad’s partner of 30 years had polio as a young girl, leaving her with a stunted leg, fused ankle and a significant limp; as a senior, she now has post-polio syndrome and Parkinson’s which restricts her mobility largely to her motor scooter. As a result, my family gained a great awareness and sensitivity about crafting our family outings and get-togethers to accommodate Martha’s degree of mobility and comfort in participating in whatever was planned (e.g., ranging from going on wheelchair accessible hikes, and bringing along portable ramps and toilet facilities, to finding accessible locations to host our large family events). This experience over the years has made me much more aware of how difficult it can be for a physically challenged person to have access to and participate in many of the daily activities and public events that the rest of us take for granted, and how they have the added burden of constantly planning ahead and designing strategies to cope with accessibility contingencies. I would carry this awareness onto City Council by prioritizing investments in improving accessibility, and by incorporating accessibility considerations into the planning of our city infrastructure–in order to foster a more inclusive, welcoming, and livable city.
The other person who taught me some fundamental life lessons about dealing with disability is my mother. She suffered from a brain disease that robbed her of her ability to speak and eventually to physically or mentally take care of herself. For the last five years of her life, she lived at Anam Chara, a small (10-person), round-the-clock care facility in North Boulder where most days my twin sister or I would visit my mom twice daily, to begin and end her day with her. Being a part of my mom’s and her follow residents’ daily lives for five years was one of the more profound and meaningful experiences of my life, and taught me some life-changing lessons about compassion and service, as well as simply how to take care of another human being with grace and dignity. In addition, this experience underscored for me how essential it is for our society to provide an adequate safety net for those in need–be it our seniors, children, low-income, or physically or mentally disabled fellow citizens. On City Council, I would champion the continued funding of essential city services, and funding of non-profits and others who provide vital services and support, for the disabled community, seniors, and other populations in need.
Tom Johnson - I have a physical disability, peripheral neuropathy, and have walk with 2 canes for several years.
I owned Buffalo Lock and Key, Inc. for 29 years and dealt with the ADA issues.
I support your organization and the ADA. If elected will continue same.
Daniel Ziskin - There are two separate experiences I wish to tell you about.
About 20 years ago I lived in Washington D.C. and played a lot of ultimate frisbee. There were several deaf Frisbee players that played in our league who experienced numerous communication problems with the hearing players. [Note that D.C. has a large deaf community because of Gallaudet University.] I made it a personal goal to learn American Sign Language (ASL) in order to “meet them half-way”. I quickly fell in love with ASL and studied it with gusto. Within a year I was welcomed onto the deaf frisbee team (called “flying hands”). I acquired a deaf roommate and had the opportunity to sign everyday. Although I never felt fluent in ASL, I could get way beyond “baby talk” and hold adult conversations. Sadly, with minimal opportunities to practice since moving to Boulder, my signing has gotten terribly rusty.
Yes, it’s nice that I know ASL, but how does that affect my ability to serve the disabled community on City Council? Here are the lessons I’ve learned:
*We are all people first and are not defined by our level of ability. Many deaf people I met rejected the view that they were disabled. They saw themselves as merely “differently-abled”, where prejudice by the hearing community was the primary obstacle to their achievement. It made me acutely aware of discrimination, both intentional and unintentional, both by individuals and systemic, and by both commission and omission. Why? Because my deaf friends were telling me about it and I saw it from their point of view.
*As I mentioned, this experience in my life was occurring in D.C. about 20 years ago. The city was abuzz about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I became well versed in its requirements and have been a strident supporter of it ever since. In particular, I believe accommodation for people with disabilities is both a legal and moral obligation. I followed through with this sentiment by learning ASL and I was enriched by it.
The second experience I would like to bring to your attention is from my family of origin. Both my parents are physicians and I have a younger brother and younger sister. My sister was born profoundly intellectually disabled and noverbal. She lived with us until she was about 9 or 10 and then became too big for my mother to easily take care of her. At that point she was transferred to an institution. My mother has had a career in public health and became the deputy commissioner for the state health department of New Jersey. She is retired now, but has also held a seat on the state’s disability commission. Attached is a photo of my brother, sister, and mother.
Once again, we can ask, “Daniel, you may have experienced disability in your family, but how does that qualify you to serve on the Boulder City Council?” Firstly, it generates in me a dimension of compassion because I have personally experienced some of the heartache associated with this issue. In particular, I am envious of brothers and sisters that can participate in activities together as peers. And, secondly, my mother taught me through her words and actions that society makes choices with its resources that can drastically improve the lives of those carrying the additional burden of disability. As a trustee of public money I know we should ensure our services for the disabled are funded because it’s right, because disabled people are people, and also because I see my own family in their story.
Fenno Hoffman - I grew up with disability in my family. I lived with it every day of my life for 20 years. My experience was not with an ambulatory disability, but with emotional and intellectual challenge – which arguably are the most difficult to contend with. The compassion, respect and sympathy and…the way I feel about people who are, in some way, not “normal” is…indescribable and complicated. I couldn’t possibly explain it.
Ken Wilson – My mother-in-law has been disabled for three years. My mother’s stepson has been disabled with multiple sclerosis for ten years. In both instances, while I do not live near them, I have supported my disabled family members emotionally and financially, including arranging medical care and housing. My experience with these relatives with disabilities has helped me become better attuned to the needs of the disabled community during my four years on City Council. If re-elected to Council, I will continue to use my personal experiences to ensure that people in our community with disabilities are treated with compassion and respect.