Barriers /Ken Martin


I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I would drop in at the grand opening of the new Cleveland Park Library last month. With its clean white interior, new fixtures, bright conference and reading rooms and high ceilings, the place looked great and inviting!  Even inclusive.  

As a former Friends of the Library group president and one-time librarian’s spouse, I have a fondness for the D.C. Public Library. I also think it’s great that the new library system has designated staff to inform, assist and advocate on behalf of its non-domiciled patrons.  

There are indeed some good improvements to the libraries, but upon leaving Cleveland Park, much to my surprise (and chagrin), what should I see? Benches with armrests! Not the kind of benches with armrests at either end that act as a barrier to falling and injuring oneself. Oh no, they were the kind of armrests that act as a barrier to a person needing a place to rest or to lie down. 

Think a moment about that: A person headed to their home nearly falls out from heat exhaustion or dehydration, and needs to lie down. Wouldn’t it be a shame if they can’t lie still on a bench to regain their composure until help arrives?  

Of course, if you’re sleep-deprived because you have no home or bed, or if you are dehydrated because water consumption is a luxury for you, as you’re unwelcome at most rest facilities, then well, tough luck! I doubt that metal armrests are installed for comfort. They’re too cold for winter, too hot for summer and not exactly cozy for couples in spring or fall.  

The tragedy in this is that we claim to care about the plight of the homeless, and it’s a lie. Small, white or oversight (my eye), it’s still a lie! 

Whoever designed the benches asked for opinions, received input and submitted documents and designs for approval. Then others granted funding and cut the check. Still others were contracted, and the benches were built. Yet no one notices that big cold hunk of metal in the middle!?  

This is another hurtful, harmful decision by insensitive bureaucrats, unfolding during an election year. So much for forethought. We know what we’re doing, what we are still doing: sitting on our apathy and building barriers.