Party Lines Banning the wheelchair-bound

When we last checked in on Leon "Eddie" Massón, he was navigating the streets in the Medical Center, demonstrating to District 8 Councilman Art Hall the difficulty of getting around town in a wheelchair.

Hall quickly learned that the civil engineering of roads, sidewalks and utility poles often don't account for those confined to a wheelchair. Hall wheeled from the emergency room to the main entrance of University Hospital, and had to pay close attention to traffic and the tortuous path he had to travel.

Massón copes with that difficulty every day. Seriously injured in a motorcycle accident several years ago, he was nearly decapitated, and will gladly show you the scar that arcs from beneath one ear to another.

A couple of years ago, Massón started petitioning City Council to acknowledge the difficulties that disabled persons encounter. It could be boarding a VIA bus, where the driver is obligated to strap wheelchairs down before proceeding to the next stop. Or it could be as simple as opening a glass door that partitions Council Chambers from the outside.

It was not surprising to read in the Express-News about Massón's presence at a recent meeting of the City's Transportation Advisory Board, at which he pointed out that the City's ban on handicapped-accessible taxicabs violated the American Disabilities Act.

The City banned handicapped-accessible cabs from entering the lineup at San Antonio International Airport because some drivers had allegedly refused to accept handicapped riders in other parts of the city.

Taxi driver Adri Skye, who says she has mortgaged her house to finance outfitting her van with handicapped-accessible equipment, was barred from the airport in January.

"No drivers have refused to pick up disabled fares," she says, refuting information the City had when it adopted an ordinance to ban airport access.

Skye points out that of the number of fares she had between July 2004 and January 2005, only 39 were handicapped people. There were four from dispatch, eight from the airport, and 27 from medical centers paying for transportation of their patients.

In other words, a cabbie who converts a taxi to be handicapped-accessible cannot afford to rely solely on fares from disabled passengers.

The City met with members of the Transportation Advisory Board, on which only one of its members is serving a current term (the other members are "holdovers," those with expired terms whose seats are waiting new appointments), and reversed the discriminatory practice of banning specially equipped taxis from the airport.

No problem, right?

Not until after a recent Transportation Advisory Board meeting. Massón sent a letter dated March 2 to the Ethics Review Board, concerning an alleged threat from TAB member Mary V. "Mada" Calk. Massón and Skye signed the letter, in which they accused Calk of approaching them after the meeting, and saying "You better back off from that, cause we'll just take the airport away from you again."

Massón says he replied that he and Skye had demonstrated that the ordinance banning the special vehicles was a "federal offense" adding "don't you think there would be a lawsuit if that happened?"

Skye says Calk reportedly replied that "Well, lawsuits take years and you will just lose your airport access, and your permit" and allegedly threatened Massón with a "bloody nose."

Party Lines tried repeatedly to call Calk at Star Cab, where she is listed as an independent driver. Calk didn't return the phone calls.

Therefore, this message goes out to Councilman Hall, who can either recommend Calk to continue serving on the TAB, or appoint someone else: Find someone who is a more sympathetic to the daily struggle of SA's wheelchair-bound citizens.

By Michael Cary

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