Greenfield library doesn’t meet needs of wheelchair-bound residents

  • Joannah Whitney

Published: 12/24/2018 10:18:07 AM

Falling in a wheelchair is scary. When I left the November Town Council meeting, I rolled backward, down the slope out of the GCTV studio. Because the incline is so steep, my wheelchair tipped over and I hit the floor and wall. As people rushed to disentangle me from my chair, I knew my back hurt. I could not tell if the injury was serious.

Since moving to Greenfield, I have met many people and made good friends. I value that. I value that I have found ways to contribute to this community. At the same time, I weigh everything I do and every place I go against two questions: Is going there possible? Will it be safe?

The historic buildings in Greenfield were built at a time when I would not have been part of the public. In the late 18th and early 19th century, when Asher Benjamin was designing buildings like the one that houses Greenfield Public Library people with disabilities lived marginal lives, in a back bedroom of a family home, or at the Poor Farm.

While there is value in the buildings that make up our historic legacy, we are challenged to have public buildings that include all members of our community in ways that are safe and welcoming. A library in a building that was designed to be an 18th century house is neither.

An accident or illness can transform our library from an historic icon viewed with affection, into an experience of exclusion. The lovely front entrance is inaccessible. Because of the many sets of steps, I cannot get closer to the front door than the sidewalk.

Getting into the Library is a series of challenges: getting over the broken pavement in the parking lot; getting down a ramp that is too steep and has a large crack; on a rainy day, getting through pools of water at the bottom of the ramp, pools that become ice in the winter. Something as simple as wanting to return a book after-hours is impossible.

I can only enter the library through a basement hallway that is blocked by posts. The elevator to the main floor is hidden down a long corridor, which includes another steep incline. The entrance to the women’s restroom is on this ramp, with an additional short rise similar to the one that caused my recent fall. As I try to use the library, I encounter barrier after barrier, when I want to get a book, use a computer, or explore the DVD or CD collections. When am I supposed to feel welcome?

I know that my experience of the library is very different from other patrons. For example, if my niece and her young family come to visit, we could not include a trip to the children’s room to entertain her boys. The picture books are in an area that has a step that would require a 6-foot ramp for to me to have a safe access. We have extraordinary services and resources for children. These are resources that I cannot share with the youngest members of my family.

We have an opportunity to meet the needs of all members of our community in significantly better ways. We don’t have to limit our 21st century values to our 18th century heritage. We could become a community that is safer and more inclusive. I hope Greenfield residents will join me in urging our city councilors to vote “Yes” to building a new library.

Joannah Whitney is a local poet, who lives on Franklin St. She used to be an archaeologist, working in the field of Cultural Resource Management. She runs an on-going writing workshop at the library. She is also a member of the Greenfield Local Cultural Council, Greening Greenfield, and the Franklin County League of Women Voters.


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