Broken Pavement, Broken Promises

Posted by The Arc of North Carolina
Author: Bryan Dooley
 
Since I live in the suburbs, I don’t go downtown Winston Salem frequently. I recently traveled on the sidewalks downtown on the way to a meeting. We were looking to find a parking spot, but there were issues with the sidewalks. Since there is a lot of revitalization, a cone was blocking the ramp. Dave (who provides support to me) was attempting to allow me to navigate, but eventually he had to step in and move it for me. I’m not the only person to notice accessibility issues in downtown Winston Salem.

Nicole Harding, a parent and advocate from Winston Salem, has noticed issues with parking. “I, for one, seem to have issues with finding parking that I can actually load a chair in and out of safely. Accessibility on sidewalks is getting better in the totally re-done areas, but overall is vastly lacking,” said Harding.

“Getting through the door of some places just isn’t going to happen, because they aren’t wide enough. Or there aren’t any ramps to access a sidewalk unless they are way on the other end of the road. It’s hard to easily, (or sometimes safely) maneuver a chair into some businesses, and not get in the way of others.”
 

As I ponder these issues, it’s hard not to reflect on the importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the importance of communities being accessible to all.

Cities and towns should not just comply with the ADA because it’s the law. It also makes good business sense in North Carolina. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 23.9% of North Carolinians have some type of disability. People with disabilities have to spend their money somewhere.

Open-Doors Organization (http://opendoorsnfp.org) is a non-profit founded in 2002 to ensure that people with disabilities have the same consumer opportunities as everyone else. A study released in 2015 quantifies how much adults with disabilities spend on their own travel- $17.3 billion - up from $13.6 billion in 2002. Since these individuals typically travel with one or more other adults, the economic impact is double, or $34.6 billion.

Bill Donohue, board member of The Arc of North Carolina and parent advocate from Winston Salem, noticed accessibility problems relating to entrances and doors. Donohue asked: “How many offices and shop owners only unlock one side of their two-door entrance? I’d guess half.”

Donohue added, “Accessibility is related to transportation. You can’t go to a bar, church, doctor, movie or gym if there is no transportation available. Some is related to mass transit routes and times, others related to trans aid boundaries, and still others are related to wheelchair access, safe pickup areas and willing taxi or Uber drivers. It not just about ramps.”

Winston-Salem is not the only place in North Carolina where advocates have seen accessibility issues. Ann Flaherty, a graduate of NC Partners in Policymaking said,

“We encounter fairly new communities where the sidewalk access is too steep and requires a turn before one is even on the sidewalk. See the sidewalks at Southern Village in Chapel Hill/Carrboro.” Flaherty continued, “We had a tough time, and these are new sidewalks. Broken pavement on sidewalks is another issue.”

Betsy MacMichael, Executive Director at First In Families of North Carolina, agrees. “The condition of sidewalks is an issue,” said MacMichael. “Cracks in sidewalks are dangerous. Another issue is when the curb cuts are blocked by someone parking too close.”

Urban cities are now seeing an influx of scooters and bicycles to help people commute. Two companies have contracted with the city of Raleigh to provide scooters and bicycles. While these are intended to be used as alternative transportation in urban areas, they can cause issues. Many scooters are left on sidewalks and in the curb “cutouts” which can make accessing these areas a challenge.

Scooters and bicycles tend to be fairly quiet. If someone using a scooter or bicycle does not let you know that they are coming up beside you, it can be very disorienting. For those using wheelchairs or walking crutches, it can be dangerous.

Some communities in North Carolina are more accessible than others. According to Philip Woodward, Systems Change Manager at NC Council on Developmental Disabilities, those that want to become more accessible have a variety of resources available to them:

The U.S. Access Board has published a list of guidelines and standards: https://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards.  Also, the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities’ (NCCDD) new ADA Coordination, Technical Assistance, and Fiscal Intermediary Supports initiative (https://nccdd.org/nc-ada-network.html) enables the NC ADA Network’s grassroots groups to conduct small projects to help increase voluntary compliance with the ADA and awareness of the ADA in local communities.

Unfortunately, 28 years after the ADA, accessibility in North Carolina varies from place to place. The best enforcers of our rights are self-advocates. Take some time to learn more about accessibility where you live. If you have thoughts on how to make your city more accessible, make sure you contact your local city council representative. You can make your community a better place for everyone.