The man who helped make Pasadena more accessible to disabled people, and later fought to help disabled people gain local employment, has died.
The city hired Robert Gorski as its first Accessibility Issues Coordinator 31 years just before passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. The ADA affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal.
Gorski, who was left in a wheelchair after a childhood bout with polio, helped change Pasadena from a city that offered little access for people in wheelchairs to a city more accessible for disabled people by leading the city to install curb ramps, accessible parking spaces, improved crosswalk controls, assistive listening systems and equal opportunity for employment.
According to a statement read by City Manager Steve Mermell read at Monday’s City Council meeting, Gorski was hired after a small group of people approached the City Council in the mid-1980s regarding accessibility issues for the disabled. In response the council created an Accessibility Task Force, which put forth the recommendation to create an Accessibility Issues Coordinator position.
“He held that position until his retirement in April 2016,” said Mermell. “During his time with the city Robert focused on increasing access for the disabled. He was particularly committed to insuring that people with disabilities could enjoy the annual Rose Parade. He facilitated the Rose Parade Accessible Viewing Area for many years allowing thousands of people to enjoy the parade in person with their families and friends. After retirement, Robert began hosting the Pasadena Media show “Access for All,” through which he continued his lifelong work of improving accessibility in the Pasadena community. I personally worked with Robert for many years. He was a good man with a kind soul. Many of are saddened by this lost.”
Gorski did not just point out issues in the city, he also experienced them first hand.
Besides his efforts to set up an area for people with disabilities to view the Rose Parade each year, Gorski also fought to ensure the disabled were guaranteed access to the voting booth.
While leaving City Hall to vote at his polling place, Gorski discovered that voters had to go down a long flight of stairs to cast their ballots. This left him and anyone else who could not use the stairs unable to vote.
Thanks to Gorski’s work, Pasadena was recognized in 2005 by the National Council on Disabilities for becoming one of the most accessible cities in the nation.
In 2017, Gorski said his work had changed. His focus had shifted to fighting to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities gain meaningful employment.
“When I started out it was about architectural issues,” Gorski said in 2017. “By the time I was leaving it was about employment. Funding for community programs and government benefits programs that support independent living is considerably less nowadays.”