Col­umn Bar­ri­ers? Let’s get be­hind Joe

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - OPINION - James Walker Colum­nist

Joe Lu­ciano can be a pain in the butt — there ain’t no doubt about that.

Talk about a nui­sance. My in­box is flooded with emails of Lu­ciano’s not-so-gen­tle rants about the in­dig­ni­ties he and other dis­abled peo­ple con­tinue to en­dure, which pre­vents them from liv­ing full lives. Joe suf­fered a stroke and uses a wheelchair.

Over the last sev­eral years, he has raised Cain about his in­abil­ity to get around Sey­mour — the place he calls home — and do the sim­ple things oth­ers take for granted.

Whether it is non-com­pli­ance for snow re­moval or park­ing laws or lack of hand­i­cappedac­ces­si­ble build­ings, in­clud­ing his home, Lu­ciano says be­cause those laws are not en­forced, he and other dis­abled — not the able-bod­ied — are pay­ing the price.

Pho­tos he sends me show him in his wheelchair im­peded by mounds of un­plowed snow on side­walks in front of homes or busi­nesses — or his at­tempts to visit the post of­fice.

And frus­trated, he is not let­ting lo­cal, state or U.S. of­fi­cials for­get it, bom­bard­ing them with let­ters and emails about the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act and the lack of ad­her­ence to it even as the law cel­e­brates its 27th year.

But so far, his ef­forts seem­ingly haven’t amounted to much, as fol­low-up emails from him ad­dress the lack of re­sponse.

But like a boxer who stag­gers out of his cor­ner still throw­ing punches, Joe con­tin­ues his bar­rage against pub­lic of­fi­cials.

Cur­rently, he has a com­plaint lodged against Sey­mour po­lice al­leg­ing they joked and mocked him in a con­ver­sa­tion he recorded.

So, Joe is se­ri­ous about be­ing taken se­ri­ously.

And I am with him all the way.

My only ques­tion is, why isn’t ev­ery­one over the age of 50 in this state not be­hind him, as well?

Bells have been peal­ing a warn­ing over the last 10 years as fund­ing and ser­vices for the dis­abled have taken hit af­ter hit. How bad is it for them? Ev­ery­thing that af­fects their qual­ity of life — from hous­ing to med­i­cal care — is be­ing cut, or cuts to th­ese ser­vices are be­ing pro­posed, leav­ing many of Con­necti­cut’s vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zens fac­ing bleak fu­tures and tougher times.

Peo­ple in wheel­chairs re­cently stormed Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy’s of­fice at the state Capi­tol to call at­ten­tion to the po­ten­tial harm of more pro­posed cuts — and were ar­rested for their ac­tions.

It’s an un­set­tling im­age of our more vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zens but it is one read­ers should let rest in their minds for a minute and imag­ine their des­per­a­tion — and how pow­er­less they must feel. For dar­ing to fight for a bet­ter life, they re­ceived 20 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice for civil dis­obe­di­ence.

And that brings me to the point of my col­umn and why ev­ery­one over the age of 50 must get be­hind Joe and the dis­abled. The rea­son is sim­ple: we are the next vul­ner­a­ble group and will face the same or sim­i­lar bar­ri­ers.

Eight years from now, about 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple in Con­necti­cut will be 55 and older. That will rep­re­sent ap­prox­i­mately 35 per­cent of the state’s pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Con­necti­cut Eco­nomic Re­source Cen­ter. And those num­bers will only climb as more and more baby boomers re­tire.

Broke and get­ting old — with the young flee­ing for bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties — is not a good com­bi­na­tion for a state that needs to turn it­self around.

It’s no se­cret what it is go­ing to take to bring Con­necti­cut back to sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity: it’s got to get younger.

That means it must use its avail­able re­sources to shore up “youth” and that doesn’t bode well for peo­ple over 50.

Con­necti­cut will have to do a lot more than boast about its beau­ti­ful shore­lines and state parks to at­tract youth and keep them here.

In all prob­a­bil­ity, it means mak­ing the state more af­ford­able for young fam­i­lies with in­cen­tives such as af­ford­able hous­ing, child care and tax breaks.

And what does that take? Money — and there is not much of that.

I am a re­al­ist. I don’t see Con­necti­cut spend­ing mas­sive amounts of money mak­ing the lives of se­nior cit­i­zens and the dis­abled bet­ter over the next 10 to 20 years when it has a huge prob­lem with young, un­e­d­u­cated and un­skilled work­ers who have taken up roots in the state.

So, we may not be in wheel­chairs; but we, too, are in dan­ger as we grew older.

Oh, I know, a lot of us are not think­ing about those com­ing days right now.

Many of us have kicked oldage to Florida as we ex­er­cise, groove to the oldies and in gen­eral turn up­side down what it is means to grow older.

Some of us are still mov­ing like Jag­ger and oth­ers can still go down that soul train line.

And, yeah, it’s pretty cool to still have some fire in the fur­nace even as snow threat­ens the rooftop.

But grow­ing older we are and, even­tu­ally, age will have its way. Mus­cles will weaken, bones will grow more brit­tle, steps will slow and voices will grow weaker.

And un­like in some other coun­tries, here in the U.S., age and wis­dom are not val­ued above youth and en­ergy.

Con­necti­cut hasn’t ig­nored the dis­abled or its se­niors and has made many strides to im­prove their lives. But when the dol­lars are on the ta­ble and the pick­ings are slim, the vul­ner­a­ble are the first to feel the cuts — and be ig­nored. Just ask Joe. He is try­ing to live his last years en­joy­ing life — not fight­ing to en­joy it.

But he shouldn’t be a one-man army for bar­ri­ers that af­fect so many and will un­doubt­edly af­fect many more in the years to come.

Some­times, it takes the howl of the lone wolf to draw the pack and in this case, that howl is a call to arms to ev­ery­one over the age of 50 in Con­necti­cut. We hes­i­tate at our own peril. Let’s get be­hind Joe. James Walker is the Reg­is­ter’s se­nior ed­i­tor. He can be reached at jwalker@nhreg­is­ter.com or 203-680-9389. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @the­lieon­roars.

PETER HVIZDAK / NEW HAVEN REG­IS­TER FILE PHOTO

A protest rally on the front steps of the Sey­mour United States Post Of­fice to demon­strate the fa­cil­ity’s lack of hand­i­capped ac­ces­si­bil­ity. At far left is Irene Puc­cino of East Haven, pres­i­dent and board of di­rec­tors mem­ber of the Cen­ter for Dis­abil­ity Rights in West Haven, and Joe Lu­ciano of Sey­mour, third from left, who helped or­ga­nize the event.

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