From the Desk Of: Restoration with a side of taxpayer money and the exemption of ADA
Tutor for Disability Support Services
Gulf Coast Community College
So here’s an interesting conundrum. Columbia city officials have recently undergone some fire after receiving complaints that the new Columbia dinner train receives support with taxpayer money, though the train is not handicapped accessible. Disabilities advocates have said that the train is breaking federal law by not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.However, Tony St. Romaine, Columbia, MO, Assistant City Manager, said that the train is exempt from federal accessibility laws because it is a vintage train. And though he conceded that there have been some retrofits, such as adding electricity, that the actual dining car is restored to its original splendor to provide its diners an experience of travel in that decades ago era. He furthermore said that “to make it accessible would basically ruin that experience.” [Source]
Though with a sentiment like that, its hard not to question then if simply because ADA didn’t exist forty or more years ago that its all right to recreate the same “experience” of inaccessibility and separation in an era where it does exist? That would be like walking into a “vintage” diner in Selma, Alabama and hanging a “Whites Only” sign on the front door and then adhering to that policy all so the city could “recreate the experience.”
Accessibility issues aside, Homer Page, chair for the Disabilities Commission in Columbia, brings forth even deeper issues; that is. should the city have invested public money supporting an inaccessible service for the community?
City official St. Romaine argues that what taxpayer money was invested into the construction and operation of the train, the city will more than get back in tourism revenue from the people who come to use the train.
Watch the actual news coverage video from KOMU 8 here.
Now, city officials have said that while it is too costly, and would “ruin the experience” to outfit the train dining car to be handicapped accessible, there are plans in the future, once this train has paid off, to create a handicapped accessible train. Though, after the remarks made earlier, to me that just sounds like a polite way of saying they will be building a train car for the handicapped that will continue to NOT ruin the experience of all the other train passengers sitting in the recreated era-appropriate train car.
But that does bring up something to ponder. If the point of recreating something in all the fine details that go into it to make whatever it is look historically accurate, does then adding the modern amenities necessary to making it accessible ruin the atmosphere of the vintage experience. Afterall, isn’t the point of restoration to bring that thing back to its original glory, which most likely means not handicapped accessible, unfortunately. And while not having that something be handicapped accessible may not have the same outwardly abhorrent statement being made as a “Whites Only” sign, it is nevertheless an underlying statement that granting accessibility to everyone is only important if aesthetics aren’t necessary.
And if we are at all considering that era-appropriate aesthetic should override the necessity to provide accessibility to all, then it is certainly arguable that something designed to be used by the city for its citizens and others should not be allowed to use all taxpayers dollars as it is openly choosing not to allow access to all of its constituents.
So what’s the answer to all this. I certainly don’t know. I do think that the situation was handled callously by city officials and made only worse with St. Romaine’s justification of aesthetic and placating with the promise of a future train car designed specifically for handicapped accessibility. Its a biting sting that could have been better delivered if perhaps had been consulted with the people of Columbia before the injury was made.