Getting there

Maxine Blendis finally purchases her NIS 10,000 Israeli-made motorized wheelchair last fall after years of declining mobility.

wheelchair 88 (photo credit: )
wheelchair 88
(photo credit: )
was very excited," recalls Maxine Blendis about finally purchasing her NIS 10,000 Israeli-made motorized wheelchair last fall after years of declining mobility caused by an auto-immune disease she prefers not to discuss. "But then I realized I couldn't get down [from sidewalks] to cross the road." Recently, however, the German Colony resident has had some success in mobilizing City Hall to pave ramps between sidewalk curbs and roads in her neighborhood so that she and other mobility-challenged Jerusalemites can go about their business. A recent tour of Rehov Emek Refaim with the 60-something art historian revealed the nature of the obstacles. At the intersection of Emek Refaim and Yonatan streets - one of the 15 corners and crosswalks that Sasson Moalem of the municipality's Maintenance of Roads and Sidewalks Department has fixed at Blendis's instigation - a VW Passat blocked the crosswalk, making it impassable for Blendis, not to mention mothers with baby strollers. Blendis's neighbor Johnny Nicolaidis, who happened to be walking by, quipped that the driver was "definitely a handicapped person, crawling on all fours." The driver, who at that point strode out from nearby Tal Bagels, grinned an embarrassed apology and hastily drove off. For Blendis, it's all part of the ongoing struggle to receive recognition for the rights of the mobility challenged, including disabled IDF veterans, in the city. For the British-born educator and lecturer, to cross the "horrible" intersection of Pierre Koenig and Emek Refaim is to take her life in her hands. The 5-cm.-high ramps at the islands in the roadway might as well be the Great Wall of China, or the West Bank security fence, she says. The result? A death-defying journey among the cars and buses to reach the local greengrocer. Blendis documents her ongoing correspondence by fax machine with Moalem - whose City Hall office is not equipped with e-mail. The Maintenance of Roads and Sidewalks Department has been steadily working on Blendis's list. Moalem is very sympathetic. During an on-site inspection tour last year Blendis's cart lurched over a bump in the sidewalk, causing her fruits and vegetables to spill out from her hamper. Moalem urges "patience," citing a limited budget. But Blendis says apart from budgetary limitations, the problem lies in Mayor Uri Lupolianski's failure to implement the standardization of infrastructure for new municipal infrastructure development. She cites the lack of sidewalk ramps on the new street created parallel to Heinrich Graetz and the similar situation on Derech Beit Lehem and Shimshon in Baka. Both corners lead to new luxury housing projects. "There are tons of nechim [disabled people] in the city. And they're not as fortunate as me. I can walk a little," she says. "I want to encourage others to become active. Something can be done. I've proved it. How much does it cost to stick down some tar?" For Dr. Laurie Blendis, a hepatologist at Hadassah-University Medical Center, his wife's crusade for improved handicapped access is part of the wider struggle to reduce traffic fatalities in Israel caused, he says, by speeding and the improper separation of vehicles and pedestrians. The couple urges mobility-impaired Jerusalemites to contact Moalam at 629-7755 with their lists of street corners with inadequate curb grading.