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home : opinions : opinions April 17, 2015


11/27/2012 10:30:00 AM
Letter: access to disability services difficult on Navajo reservation

To the editor:

According to a Navajo Disability Awareness Survey conducted in December 2011 by the Native American Disability Law Center (Law Center), with assistance from the San Juan Center for Independent Living, Gallup Office, 93 percent of survey respondents thought that a person with a disability wants to be respected and wants the same opportunities afforded people without disabilities. The participants of this survey were 93 percent Navajo.

In 2011 and 2012, the Native American Disability Law Center and the Navajo Nation Advisory Council on Disabilities (NNACOD), conducted building accessibility surveys in Window Rock, Crownpoint, Shiprock, Chinle and Tuba City.

The findings of these surveys were compiled into a report by the Law Center entitled "Opening Doors." This report points out that Navajos with disabilities have difficulty getting into public facilities that provide services to Navajos with disabilities. Those with disabilities could not get out of their vehicles because of muddy parking lots, there were not any designated parking spaces, unleveled and graveled parking lots, doors were too heavy, there was not a ramp or the door was not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Due to these physical barriers, Navajos with disabilities are more likely not to get vital assistance or are unable to access benefits because they literally cannot get into the doors of disability service providers that are responsible to serve them.

Other deficiencies that were identified included insufficient parking space for a van to lower a wheelchair lift, curve cuts and cross walks not visibly marked or painted, obstructions on pathways to building entrances, difficult to grasp knobs on entrance doors, public telephones out of reach for a person in a wheelchair and without text capability and volume control for a hearing impaired person, water fountains too high for a person in a wheelchair, restroom sinks, dispensers, and mirrors too high for a person in a wheelchair, waiting and conference rooms too small for wheelchairs, ramps too steep and made of materials that become slippery when wet, rest room stalls too narrow for wheelchair entrance and elevator controls too high for a person in a wheelchair and not marked with Braille for a visually impaired person,

These issues are in non-compliance of the Navajo Nation Vocational Rehabilitation and Opportunities for the Handicaped Act of 1984. This code mandates that all private and public entities within the Navajo Nation provide site accessibility and other related accommodations that make for easy access to disability services. It should be noted that of Navajos between the ages of 21 to 54, about 30 percent or 25,500 have a disability and of those over the age of 64, 70 percent have a disability. This is a significant number of Navajos with disabilities that have difficulty accessing disability services due to structural and other physical barriers.

The Law Center, the Navajo Nation Advisory Council on Disabilities and Navajo Nation Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, are currently collaborating to begin addressing this disability issue. Resolution of this disability issue would truly result in respecting Navajos with disabilities and provide the same opportunities afforded to other persons without a disability.

Hoskie Benally, Jr., Community\Government Liaison with Native American Disability Law Center and President, Navajo Nation Advisory Council on Disabilities


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