Opinion: Automatic public doors help us all

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I just finished the University of New Mexico Center for Development and Disability class about how to become a "partner" in policymaking. It was a three-day class that's held throughout the world to help make leaders.

We all had to pick a project and mine was public doors. So this is my speech, and now the work begins. It starts with talking to our state legislators to put their name to it.

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Hello, everyone, I'm Ted Harmon from Ranchos de Taos. I have cerebral palsy and spastic arthritic muscles along with carpal tunnel, arthritis and bursitis. I tell people I'm trying to get all the fun at once.

My pet peeve is public doors. They are always in my way. If you need a good laugh, you should see me open my hotel door with the card in one hand, door handle in the other, and the scooter, oh well, all at the same time.

But doors shouldn't be like that. They should be safe but easy.

In 1950, if you went to the grocery stores you would walk up the stairs to go into it. In 1955, a lot of your grocery stores did away with the steps, so you would push your cart into two bars on the doors to open them. Now when you walk up to the doors at grocery stores, they automatically open for your convenience. If people think about it, this change helps us all.

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted for the rights of disabled people. This was when door openers were still new, but now they are not.

The requirement to install automatic doors in buildings has not yet been included in the ADA. Even though automatic doors have been around for a while now, not all businesses or public buildings have them. This needs to change.

Since I have been working on this, the ones in power have taken out some requirements in the ADA to weaken it.

I still feel very strongly about an automatic door requirement, and I need to speak out on this. It only takes one fall for a person to become disabled, too, and for me it was just a pull in the wrong place.

If you are in a wheelchair, scooter, or walker, manual doors are not fun, and with a cane, it can be very hard to open them sometimes. Imagine you are already trying to steady yourself while going through some doors, and a door is pushing you in the back. It can make it hard to stay upright.

According to the online magazine DisabledWorld.com, "Currently around 10 percent of the world's population, or roughly 650 million people, live with a disability. They also are now saying there are 17.5 million disabled people in the USA and growing."

The magazine also reports that females have higher rates of having a disability than males. And if you are disabled, you may have more than one of the categories of disability at the same time.

Again if you use a wheelchair, scooter, or walker and try to go through a manual door, you do understand why this is my pet peeve.

The ADA said you should be able to open a door in four moves without falling out of your chair. They haven't met me. I have been in a scooter for 21 years now, and I still have trouble with some doors. Maybe I'm slow.

People with disabilities have other problems with manual doors. For example, if you need to open a door, you would have to move your hands from the handle on a door where you just pull or push the door on one side, to the other handle on the other side of the doors where you would have to push or pull the door. And during the flu season you have a greater chance to catch the flu. You might as well kiss the door.

If a store has no door-opener or has steps going into it, that tells me they do not want my business or the landlord doesn't care about the business owner, his tenant. But as a taxpayer, when a local public building is to be use by the taxpayers, I believe these buildings should have to have automatic door openers for all to use.

I ask you, if you need to use four steps to open one door, wouldn't that slow you down from using that door? I have had to wait outside for someone to open the local post office doors for me while on my scooter in 20 degree weather. Since those on wheelchairs or scooters do not move a lot, we feel the cold even more.

So now you say you need to use the restroom, and you've made it through the first door with four moves and no leaks. Great for you. But now you have another door, and you still have to open and close the stall door without springing a leak. How long do you think you can hold it?

Lawmakers need to amend the ADA and add automatic door openers. Just as when stores did away with steps and with manual doors, they will get more business, and the change will help all of us.

I leave you with this one thing. I have now gone to two meetings held by the Governor's Commission on Disability in Taos (a taxpayer-paid meeting), and at both places only manual doors were available, showing how much they think ahead.

The first time at the meeting, I was stuck in the restroom until someone opened the door. He thought he was only going to use the restroom, but to his surprise, he set me free.

This needs to stop. Automatic doors do work and help a lot of people. If you would like to use my scooter and try to open a door or two while staying seated, please ask me and I will be more than happy to let you try. Then you to will know why I'm speaking to you now. And knowing will, I hope, lead you to tell others as well.

I thank you.

Ted Harmon is a Ranchos de Taos resident.

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