New federal funding gives CTA chance to make much-needed accessibility improvements

It’s worth all of us pausing to grapple with how difficult it is for residents with disabilities to get around the city for basic daily activities, like errands, going to work or meeting up with friends.

SHARE New federal funding gives CTA chance to make much-needed accessibility improvements
The State and Lake elevated CTA station.

The State and Lake elevated CTA station.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The customer service call button was pressed on the CTA Blue Line headed toward Forest Park. “I need the gap filler at the next stop,” the gentleman says into the speaker. Silence followed.

A minute passes, and he presses the button again. “I need the gap filler at the next stop,” he repeats. He’s sitting in a wheelchair, and I mentally piece together that he’s asking for something he needs to get off the train. The customer service speaker muffles a sound in return, but it’s inaudible.

Moments later, we arrive at his stop, and you can see the concern on his face. I stand up and offer to press the button yet again, to repeat for the third time, “Ma’am, this gentleman needs the gap filler to get off the train.”

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The door starts closing, and instinctively the man shoots his arm between the doors to prevent them from closing. I ask, “Sir, does this happen often?” With immense frustration, he says, “All the time.”

What happens from there is a long story. The conductor finally replies, “Sorry, it’s really hard to hear up there.” Then it takes at least 10 minutes for a CTA employee to manually roll out the gap filler, a ramp that allows someone in a wheelchair to safely get off the train and onto the platform. Next, the employee points out that this gentleman’s stop doesn’t have an elevator. The challenges were incessant, one after another.

According to CTA’s website, 100% of their vehicles, including railcars, are considered “accessible,” despite what I witnessed that night. It’s worth all of us pausing to grapple with how difficult it is for residents with disabilities to get around the city for basic daily activities, like errands, going to work or meeting up with friends.

Fortunately, Chicago — and cities across the nation — have an unmatched opportunity to invest in enhancements that will improve transportation accessibility for generations to come. Thanks to Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, the federal infrastructure bill passed last November includes $1.75 billion over five years to improving accessibility on public transportation railways.

CTA does a lot right and has outlined ambitious plans to make the system fully accessible, with adequate funding. Plus, CTA transit workers are among the hardest working, most under-appreciated employees in the city.

With a renewed commitment to infrastructure improvements and new federal funding, now is the time to elevate disability rights in these conversations.

Rachel Zuckerman, South Loop

A real reckoning with race

The notion of critical race theory being taught in K-12 schools is a fraud cooked up by right-wing media to generate ratings for their programs and votes for their candidates.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be discussing it on its merits. To those who fear the critical race theory boogeyman, I’d ask:

What’s wrong about teaching white kids about the experiences of their Black classmates? What’s wrong about showing how the impact of America’s original sin, slavery, continues to ripple through our society more than 400 years after the first captives arrived?

What’s wrong about learning that there are many dimensions of privilege, including skin color? What’s wrong about exploring the dramatic racial disparities in areas like housing, criminal justice, public health and education?

To white folks who have an issue with these questions, let me ask one more: Would you instead be willing to walk a mile in a Black American’s shoes?

Until we have a real reckoning with race, America will always be, to use Abraham Lincoln’s phrase, a house divided. Instead of banning something that is hardly a part of our K-12 education system, we should be writing critical race theory into our curricula.

Chris Truscott, Crystal Lake

Leave it to the Bears to think small

The beloved Chicago Bears have been fixated on moving to Arlington Heights forever, because they think building their own version of the Pontiac Silverdome is a swell idea. Meanwhile, 416 acres of undeveloped property sits idle on the lakefront at the former U.S. Steel South Works.

Presented with a chance to truly leave a lasting, positive impact on Chicago, the McCaskey family instead looks to frustrate a bunch of suburbanites who most certainly didn’t move to their ranch homes to be near a year-round entertainment complex.

The Bears love their own history, but it seems they know little actual Chicago history. Let’s clue them in on the thoughts of one of the all-time great Chicagoans, Daniel Burnham:

“Make no little plans. ... They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. ... Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.”

Don Anderson, Oak Park

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