When Buffalo's Independent Living Center started operations in 1980, its first priority was obtaining access for citizens in wheelchairs to the Common Council chambers floor. On Tuesday, Center Policy Chief Todd Vaarwerk rolled his wheelchair off the elevator and onto the floor, perhaps the first to use a newly-installed elevator stashed behind a historic door in the historic chambers.
Vaarwerk says the changs opens up civic participation for those with mobility problems in a way they couldn't before.
"Most times, when people with disabilities want to talk about an issue relating to the city, they need to schedule a separate appointment or deal with the ADA coordinator on those issues because there's only actually one seat in the chamber," Vaarwerk pointed out.
"It's actually all the way up there at the top of the key. The problem is the hallway is inaccessible at that point and wheelchairs can't safely get to it."
Council President Darius Pridgen pushed for the $600,000 project.
"For a long time they thought they couldn't do it," Vaarwek said of the elevator which runs from a corner of City Hall's 12th floor to behind a door on the Council floor.
"Changes that are made for accessibility for a building that is historic have to take into account the aesthetic needs and value of the building."
The speaker at Tuesday's dedication was Mount Olive Baptist Church Pastor William Gillison, who addressed the gathering from his wheelchair.
"I can remember not too long ago, sitting out here with an issue that was dear to my heart, while others spoke on my behalf because I couldn't get to this floor," Gillison recalled. "You don't understand what this elevator means until you are in the place where I am."