Thursday, October 1, 2015

Archdiocese releases details about accommodations for papal pilgrims with disabilities

Posted: Monday, September 14, 2015 
Sherry Giordano and husband Michael

Sherry Giordano's knees won’t let her walk far. When the urge hits, her bladder can’t wait long for a bathroom break.
But the Feasterville woman is determined to be in Philadelphia at least one day during the papal visit to search for a kidney donor for her husband among the more than 1 million expected pilgrims.
Giordano knows the quest won’t be physically easy, even for someone without her health problems. What she doesn’t know yet is where the portable restrooms or medical stations will be located.
With two weeks remaining before Pope Francis’ historic visit to Philadelphia, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Friday released the first details about how it plans to accommodate those with physical limitations during the World Meeting of Families Sept. 22-25 and papal events Sept. 26-27.
The archdiocese confirmed event venues will be physically accessible to wheelchair users. Volunteers will be available to assist people using wheelchairs and their attendants, and a charging station for electronic wheelchairs will be available at Red Cross stations. The locations and number of charging stations weren't released Friday.
All water, food and retail stations and free water bottle locations will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but only 10 percent of the portable restrooms will be handicapped accessible, according to the archdiocese. The exact number or locations of ADA-compliant restrooms haven't been released. 
For people with visual impairments, audio descriptions via special "assistive" listening devices will be provided during the Festival of Families and the papal Mass, but a free papal event ticket is needed to access the area reserved for them at Von Colln Memorial Field, according to the archdiocese.
Accommodations for the three major papal events Sept. 26-27 include ADA-compliant viewing platforms with appropriate ramps and railings, according to a World Meeting of Families 2015 spokeswoman, but the archdiocese hasn't said how many platforms there will be or disclosed their locations. “Appropriate accommodations” for service animals will be available at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Independence Mall events, but no other details were released Friday on that either.
The archdiocese said it is making it easier for children with disabilities to attend the Youth Congress at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Sept. 22-25. Their personal care attendants can attend for free, but they will need to be screened as volunteers before the conference. Space within the Youth Congress is also reserved for children who may need a rest area or a break from sensory stimuli. The area will be staffed by volunteers who have experience dealing with children with special needs, the archdiocese said.
“We certainly recognize that part of the pastoral care and priority for Pope Francis is rooted in the love and affection he shows for our elders and those with special needs,” World Meeting of Families 2015 spokeswoman Rachael Harleman added.
While city officials and event planners are addressing the concerns of people with disabilities, it remains to be seen if that will be enough to persuade many of them to attend.
Falls resident Angelina Cook can't walk long distances, and her husband is an amputee. She would love to see the pope in person, and the Philadelphia visit is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but the couple plans to stay home and watch the events on TV.
“For us to even try to go is impossible because of all the security that is causing transportation problems,” she said. "It’s just the logistics of it. If you’re handicapped, getting there through all the crowds and all the security, they’ve made it impossible.”
BE PREPARED
If SEPTA’s papal rail pass sales are any indication, few people with physical limitations plan to take the train into the city to see the pope at Independence Hall and the Festival of Families Sept. 26 and the papal Mass Sept. 27.
Sales of reduced-rate papal rail tickets to senior citizens and people with disabilities account for roughly 3 percent of the 113,710 overall passes sold so far, according to SEPTA.
Among the five Bucks County regional rail stations operating that weekend, fewer than 700 of the reduced fare passes have been sold, out of more than 21,000 tickets. At the three stations serving Montgomery County, 662 reduced fare passes account for the more than 25,500 tickets sold as of last week.
New Jersey Transit has sold more than 1,400 of the 4,000 daily tickets available for those planning to ride the Atlantic City Rail Line and the River Line during the papal weekend; the transit agency doesn’t offer reduced fares for seniors or people with disabilities.
People with disabilities make up roughly 10 percent of the population in Bucks and Montgomery counties and Burlington County, the largest county in New Jersey, according to the 2013 American Community Survey Estimates. Nearly 183,000 people with disabilities live in those three counties, including 93,709 with ambulatory difficulty, according to the survey.
Resources for Independent Living in Burlington County has fielded a lot of questions from out-of-state callers asking about rules for service animals, executive director Lisa Killion Smith said. She said the animals must be harnessed and individuals must have the proper paperwork identifying them as service animals.
Killion Smith believes New Jersey officials have done a good job educating people with disabilities about what conditions they should expect during the papal weekend. Her biggest concerns are: Will there be enough wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, water stations and medical stations? 
“We’re not discouraging people from going; we’re making sure people understand what the day is going to be like,” she added. “We want to make sure they’re prepared.”
Of the 18 outlying suburban SEPTA rail stations operating during the papal weekend, only four are not ADA accessible — including Middletown's Woodbourne and Tullytown's Levittown stations, in Bucks County. All the Center City train stops are ADA accessible.
Individuals with disabilities and senior citizens won't necessarily board trains first during the papal weekend, but conductors will enforce reserved seating, SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said. SEPTA buses and trolleys either have wheelchair ramps or lifts and the front seats are reserved for people with special needs. Busch added that bus and trolley drop-off points are planned for within a few blocks of the papal security zone, which is closed to virtually all traffic starting Sept. 25.
Mayor Michael Nutter has said that seven handicapped-accessible taxis and para-transit vehicles will also be available. Access Link, New Jersey’s statewide para-transit service, isn't operating during the papal weekend, and it’s unclear if Burlington County’s para-transit service will be running, Killion Smith said.
The Philadelphia-based Disability Rights Network hasn’t received any calls complaining about a lack of accommodations during the papal events, attorney Rocco Iacullo said. But he suspects most problems will involve security in the 3½-square mile security zone called the traffic box. People with disabilities will have to go through the same security checks as everyone else, and ADA-compliant metal detectors will be stationed at access points where the pope will appear.
“The security and perimeters they’re setting up, unfortunately, will cause problems,” Iacullo added. “I’m not sure anyone will get them to back off security plans, so it is tough.”
Another concern is whether home health care attendants will be able to reach clients who live in Philadelphia, said Lisa Marie Brody, of Liberty Resources, a service and advocacy group based in Philadelphia. About 500 of its 700 home care clients live in the city, Brody said.
Those concerns were echoed by Killion Smith, who said an estimated 40 percent of home health caregivers who serve people in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties live in Philadelphia. “That is staggering,” she added.
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
For Giordano, one of her biggest worries is that she’ll have trouble leaving the city if the Maryland hospital where her husband, Michael, is on a transplant list calls to say a donor kidney is available.
She's also not sure how she’ll get to her nephew’s South Philadelphia apartment, where she will stay during the papal weekend. The security checkpoints and anticipated waiting lines are intimidating, she said, and husband Michael Giordano isn’t sure he'll be able to join her, since Fridays are one of the three days a week he gets kidney dialysis.
Still, Sherry Giordano said he's on a mission: to find her husband a kidney. His started failing three years ago. Since then, eight people volunteered to be live donors and seven cadaver organs became available, but all were denied for various reasons, she said. Her kidney problems prevent her from donating and the couple’s children can’t donate either, for health reasons.
Her plan is to get as close as she can to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Eakins Oval area, which is the epicenter for the Pope Francis events. She'll pass out fliers and posters and talk to anyone who’ll listen about her quest for a donor.
“This will be uncomfortable, for sure, for a lot of people, but I am compelled to not miss this opportunity to campaign on behalf of my husband,” she said. “I have a window of opportunity. If I don’t do this, I can’t live with myself.”
If she manages to see the pope, that will be a bonus, said Giordano, who described herself as spiritual, but not religious.
“I believe that God is within all of us,” she added. “This man who is coming is a good man. He’s a different pope.”

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