Closing the great outdoors: Shutdown politics and my wheelchair

Daniel McConchie Vice President of Government Affairs, Americans United for Life
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As the Obama administration and Congress continue their ongoing political theatre, this time in the form of a government shutdown, it is the petty and capricious nature of the administration’s efforts to make the shutdown feel worse than it actually is that is making Washington, DC more dangerous for a disabled person like me.

The National Mall, which runs through the heart of the city and lies between the Capitol and 14th Street, is a place frequented both by tourists and regular businesspeople alike. Given its location many of us in town on business regularly use the Mall as a transit point to get from one place to another.

Even though there are no fences or buildings bordering the Mall itself, the Department of Interior instructed the National Park Service (NPS) to “close” it, notwithstanding the fact that the Mall is not regularly guarded anyway.

How exactly you close an open park that is 13 blocks long and is bordered by open streets? The answer is of course that you don’t really close it, you just pretend to.

To comply with the Interior Department’s edict, NPS placed barricades in front of many of the disabled access ramps that lead up from the street. By blocking these ramps, they even block access to the sidewalk that surrounds the park. This picture is from one such spot near 7th Street and Jefferson SW near the Hirshorn Gallery – a blocked ramp amusingly surrounded by open handicapped parking spots:


As someone who has no use of my legs at all and rely entirely on a wheelchair for mobility, my options when in this area are to stay on the other side of the road or, more interestingly, try my luck in the street.

I presume this “closure” is to remind me that the shutdown is taking place, rather than for my safety or some other noble cause. I say “presumably” because there are other ways I can think of to “shut down” the Mall without forcing those of us who are disabled to circumnavigate the Mall amongst cars.

Of course the most idiotic thing about the placement of the barricades is its truly discriminatory nature. Any normal person can easily step around these fences and continue through the Mall. In the distance in the picture you can see two women who have done exactly that.

These theatrics are not limited to the National Mall. The World War II Memorial barricades have now been wired shut after Democrat and Republican Congressmen led an honor flight of WWII vets through the barricades there for a long-planned visit. Note that the memorial is not regularly guarded either.

All federal parks have been shut down. The Feds have refused an offer by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to re-open the Grand Canyon if the state pays the bill. How people enjoyed the canyon’s scenic overlooks before the Feds took over and organized such activities has apparently been forgotten.

To those responsible for such silly, empty gestures, please note that I do want our leaders to work out an agreement and reopen the government. But your rubbing my face in the shutdown doesn’t make me want a solution faster. Instead, blocking disabled ramps at the National Mall reinforces what I really want: a government that does less, better.

Dan McConchie is a paraplegic and vice president of government affairs for Americans United for Life