UPDATED: The Fiesta Association's website has changed its rules and no longer includes a ban on motorized wheelchairs. You can see both the before and after versions of the rules in the photos to the right.
The may go on after all as city and parade officials are scheduled to meet this week to discuss the controversy, but a disabled rights activist believes the Fiesta Association is still breaking the federal law by trying to get the wheelchair user out of their electric wheelchairs.
“There’s an attitudinal barrier the [parade] organizers have to be educated about,” said Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley. “A wheelchair is a different thing than a motorized vehicle. It allows them to be a pedestrian.”
Mayor Larry Kramer believes the privately run Fiesta Association, which organizes the annual, non-motorized parade, has met the conditions the City Council placed last week when it said organizers need to end their prohibition of electric wheelchairs.
However, he added that an important caveat is that organizers still need to change the rules listed on the association’s website, which as of publication time read:
This parade is one of the nation’s largest “Non-Motorized” parades. Motorized vehicles (wheel chairs, scooters etc.), motors and/or generators of any kind are not permitted. Floats must be either horse or hand drawn. There will be no exceptions. [Bolded and italics included in original]
City Council members considered granting the parade fees/license and associated street closures at its meeting on Tuesday when they also heard from a wheelchair-bound resident who would like to participate with the Canine Companions for Independence drill team.
The council granted the permit and street closures, but made them contingent upon the Fiesta Association changing its policy regarding electric wheelchairs when they are medically necessary.
According to the association’s publicity chairman Jeff Schroeder, organizers did decide it was OK for Herb Langefeld to march in his chair this year. They also will consider other wheelchair-user applicants from now on, on a case-by-case basis.
Councilman Derek Reeve, who himself is in a wheelchair, doesn’t believe the association went far enough.
“The council will make sure there is a parade, however in my opinion the Fiesta Association has not met the requirements of Tuesday's motion,” Reeve said. “I appreciate the passion people have in wanting to maintain the authenticity of the parade. I share that passion. However an electric wheelchair is not a vehicle. A person who uses one is treated as a pedestrian, not a person riding a vehicle.”
City staffers and association representatives are expected to meet this week to discuss adhering to the City Council’s unanimous decision last week, Schroeder said.
Both Mayor Kramer and Councilman Sam Allevato believe that as soon as the website verbiage changes with respect to the rules, the Fiesta Association will be back on solid ground.
“We need to really abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act and making a public event like this accessible to everyone, and I mean everyone,” Allevato said.
Said Kramer: “My understanding is that the Fiesta Association's position is that being in a medically-needed electric wheelchair will not preclude a person from being in the parade in their wheelchair. The person also has the option of being in a carriage or on a flatbed pulled by horses. “
Offering alternatives to participate in the parade outside of an electric wheelchair has been the way the Fiesta Association has handled similar requests in the past, Schroeder said.
“We have had similar requests in the past, but have always had an alternative that was viable and acceptable for the person,” he said.
Golden, the disabled advocate, said the Fiesta Association, doubts the Fiesta Association’s policy meets the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which she described as “extensive” with a lot of detail.
“They are speculating that they are in compliance with the ADA when they are not,” she said.
Offering alternatives such as riding in a carriage or being pushed in a non-motorized wheelchair isn’t equal access and could be potentially dangerous for them, she added.
“Their wheelchairs are highly adaptive to the needs of the individual. It could cause pain and injury to use a generic device,” Golden said.
She described the situation as a “well intentioned lack of awareness about disabilities.”