On Friday I went over to Good Sam hospital to visit John Scannell. I took the MAX and the Portland Streetcar for the first time. I've actually never lived in this city, and my previous forays around here were always by car. I found a remarkably clean and efficient system, not just conventional public transit, but with some amazing adaptations. You know, there are hooks to hang your bicycle from if you want to commute a longer distance than just on MAX. There are electric ramps that permit wheeled vehicles like strollers and walkers and wheelchairs to get on the train more easily. And at some point I was looking out the window and I noticed just how many electric wheelchairs there are on the streets of Portland – far more than I see in New York or in Las Vegas or any other city in this country. I saw people going about their daily business in a city that takes accessibility very seriously. In some very important way, the need to use a wheelchair has gone from a major problem to an accepted challenge in this city. The city as a whole has adapted to the needs of a few, in the sense that the whole is better off when the few are encouraged and enabled to live full and equal lives. As the Philippians writer says, a body of humiliation has been transformed into a body of glory. The city has taken the needs of a part of its population so seriously that it has moved beyond mere words of welcome to deeds of welcome.
Now, I imagine that the adaptation required in this city wasn't easy, that it involved a series of struggles over how much it would cost, and who would be inconvenienced, and even why should we bother. And I imagine that a piece of the process had to do with the legal requirements of the Americans with Disability Act. Sometimes systems need legal sanctions before they will respond. Whatever's been involved, however, this city has become a beacon of light and hope for the differently abled, and it's had something to do with the push that's come from prophetic voices.