Last Tuesday, I went to the Fairfax County Government Center or “Taj Mahal,” as it is called by some, to watch the Board of Supervisors present citizen awards and issue grand proclamations. I was there to applaud presentation of the Community Partnership Award to an especially deserving Reston group, the Reston Accessibility Committee (RAC) of the Reston Citizens Association.
RAC is a small band of particularly committed Reston activists headed by Ken Fredgren. Because of crippling polio in his youth and subsequent complications, Ken operates from a wheelchair. He is a man on a mission. He and his small squad have set out to make stores, businesses, professional and public offices, hospitals, etc. accessible to persons with disabilities.
Hundreds of thousands of Virginia residents have mobility-impairing physical disabilities as a result of disease, accidents, or the effects of aging. In Reston alone there are hundreds of people affected needing modest accommodations in order to be able to have access to places where the rest of us take it for granted. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides a legal framework requiring businesses and establishments open to the public to provide such accommodations, e.g., accessible parking places, and doorways and aisles wide enough to be negotiated in a wheelchair. The problem is that the law is rarely enforced in Fairfax County and many places are not in compliance. Thus, as a practical matter thousands cannot access services and facilities that are part of everyday living. RAC monitors compliance with ADA. When they find problems, they work with property owners and managers to make improvements necessary to comply, often modest changes such as restriping and providing proper signage for accessible parking places. In a few short years, RAC has achieved amazing results. In receiving the award, Fredgren noted that “RAC has partnered successfully with the owners and property managers of one community center … one hospital, three office parks, and six shopping centers to achieve ADA-compliant exterior access routes … [including] accessible parking spaces … accessible parking signs, access aisles, detectable warnings, traffic crossings, and entrance doors.”
Fredgren thanked the supervisors, peering down from their elevated dais, for the award and added: “So far, it is up to a tiny band of volunteers serving in a very small area containing approximately 5 percent of the county's population … [while] … 95 percent of the county's population is not being reached.” To date, the county has not exercised its authority to require and enforce provision of compliant accessible parking signs, for example. County sign inspection alone would result in effective accessible parking for thousands of county residents. He did not say the obvious—i.e., what is lacking is a decision by the board to act!
Chairman Sharon Bulova picked up on Fredgren’s cue, and directed county staff to review his suggestion and to return with recommendations for implementing it. If the Board of Supervisors responds with the kind of leadership displayed by Ken Fredgren, thousands of residents countywide would gain access to many services so far only accessible in Reston, thanks to RAC.