When the sun rises, “move your happy feet” lbut for those on wheelchairs in early 1970s, moving around was always a case of stepping down and never stepping up. There were almost no compatible constructions of the public places like the college, school or offices where they can move freely without assistance. One fine evening, this changed when few determined guys led by Michael Pachovas committed a what could be labelled “a rebellious act” of that time by pouring a cement in a form of crude ramp on a curb in the city of Berkeley, California. It was the start of movement of a movement which would later be famously known as – the curb cut effect.
Early 1972 saw the surge of disabled activists calling for further action on Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 which instructed government to make their premises accessible but the implementation was still an uphill task. Handicapped students at the University of California had to a schedule their classes in a manner that the next class is downhill from the previous one. Such was the condition in college and mobility on public roads was even tougher. One small act of Michael Pachovas came through and first curb-cut was installed at an intersection in Telegraph Avenue, Calif.
Curb-cuts first appeared in 1945 in Kalamazoo but their true utilisation worth came to light in Berkeley. It grew so popular and spread across the country giving rise to inspiration to new act in 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act passed by President George H.W. Bush. A stabilising tone after a curb cut was quipped as “the slab of concrete heard ’round the world, he said “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down,”.
A positive externality as an economist would call it prevailed. Many people with no disabilities became frequent and happy users of ramps, curb cuts and newly built accessibility friendly changes to each and every building and roads. A mother with a baby on a stroller to vendors with heavy carts benefitted from curb-cuts. It simply made mobility easier – for everyone. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The curb-cut effect’s positive externality has supported the positive side of this statement in ways that have affected American society in wider issues like inclusion of color community and equity among rich and poor.
In the times of economic distress and rising inequality between rich and poor and racism rampant, curb-effect inspired Acts like Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 show us the path to overcome the challenge of higher death rate of average class citizens and combat a series of change. It is estimated in 2044, the population of color will take majority over white population and while this is nothing alarming, what is alarming is the fact that we as a society are continuously failing the soon to be majority community. This will be inadvertently hurt economy to without a doubt.
Out of many ways, simply paying the workers of colors same as white workers would boost the GDP of America’s 150 metros by nearly a quarter. Dire need for government to understand that as a nation we arise and fall together and inclusion is not an option, it is pre-requisite to sustainable development.