Susan Guidry, the incumbent representative for District A on the New Orleans City Council, has drawn her first announced challenger for her re-election: 27-year-old comedian Jonah Bascle. But Bascle, confined to a wheelchair by muscular dystrophy, says he remains just as serious about making New Orleans accessible to people with disabilities as he was when he ran for mayor in 2010.
"It's been four years," Bascle said. "Stuff that I thought would be done by now still isn't."
One of Bascle's most visible crusades — and least successful — has been trying to make the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line usable by people in wheelchairs. While the red streetcars that run on Canal and now Loyola Avenue are accessible, the green streetcars that run on St. Charles Avenue are not.
"It's still kind of a topic that a lot of people don't want to talk about for some reason," Bascle said, noting that the streetcar tracks have been under construction for years now without any improvements to accessibility. "They're adding all this stuff without fixing what they need to fix first."
More incremental progress has been made on wheelchair-accessible taxicabs — in a way. After multiple rewrites, the city has updated its taxicab ordinances, and permits for wheelchair-accessible taxis are now available. The problem is, no cab companies in New Orleans have purchased them yet.
On even minor issues, accessibility seems to be an afterthought, Bascle said. New curbs on Freret Street near his Uptown home were built at a sharp angle that wheelchairs can't negotiate. New restaurant permits are issued on a regular basis to buildings that are not wheelchair-accessible.
Guidry's campaign, meanwhile, issued a statement welcoming Bascle to the race. "Together, we have made great progress in rebuilding our city," the campaign wrote. "But we need to keep up the momentum and continue improving, and that includes making New Orleans more accessible for people with mobility issues. This topic is close to Susan's heart. That's why we're delighted that Jonah is continuing his crusade to raise awareness about wheelchair accessibility."