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Navigating the sidewalks in a wheelchair

May 1, 2008 Accessibility, Downtown, Steve Patterson 7 Comments

Today, my first full day back from physical rehab, I attended a Society of Professional Journalists luncheon down the street.  So I ventured out in the power chair from my place at 16th & Locust over to Lucas Park Grille at 13th and Washington.

Not a huge distance but one that would have been pretty difficult in a manual chair.  Curb ramps were in place on all the corners except one.  The ones that did exist, however, were often broken or had a huge edge at the point of approach.  Again the power chair was able to handle the situation but not everyone has such a chair.  Also I have to say that using a manual chair vs a power one can be rewarding — like riding a bike vs driving a car — one requires physical exertion but with that you get a sense of accomplishment.  You seem more connected to your environment.

At a casual glance we look around and see curb ramps and thus assume the environment is accessible to the physically disabled.   The real question we need to ask is how functional is the environment?  Poorly installed or damaged curb ramps reduces functionality, at times to zero.  Cities all over the country pay a small fortune to upgrade their intersections with curb ramps but when they don’t work as intended it simply becomes another waste of taxpayer money.

On the other side, when curbs and such are done right, disabled members of the community can lead independent lives rather than wasting away in costly nursing homes.    In that context, investing in accessible
infrastructure is very cost effective.

A fellow patient from MRC also returned to his home near South County Mall yesterday.  Despite being close to both a good number of employment and shopping choices his options for getting there are very limited.  His neighborhood of single family detached dwellings has plenty of paving for driveways but not sidewalks.  Getting to a point where he could catch a bus is nearly impossible.  He’ll need an expensive van with a lift to be mobile not because of his inability to push his wheelchair but because of the poor pedestrian nature of where he lives.   So while I may have issues with a ramp here or there at least we have sidewalks!

We all make choices about where we live and I must say I am very pleased with mine.


Currently there are "7 comments" on this Article:

  1. Brad Mello says:

    Steve — how was the meeting? I didn’t know there were any journalists left with a since of Professionalism about them! Your experience of St. Louis from a chair reminds me of a mini-documentary I made while at Penn State. I teamed with a friend who was a physical education major who was in a course where one of the assignments involved spending a day with a disability. Some wore blindfolds or tied one arm behind their back, my friend spent a day in a wheel chair and I went around filming her. It was amazing how horrible Penn State’s campus was for wheelchair bound folks back in 1985. It seems we really have made great progress in this area but there’s still much to be done as you clearly are noticing. Thanks for sharing your experiences — they really are eye-opening. Be well my friend! Brad

  2. dude says:

    pics? I’m spoiled. I find it humorous when you highlight obviously poorly done projects. I am curious what should be chair accessable? Surerly it doesn’t include all mountain summits or the remote forest preserve.

  3. barbara_on_19th says:

    I think Steve just made the inarguable point that what should be accessible is a taxpayer-funded curb cut. Startlingly, you extend this simple wish to areas of wilderness unmentioned by Steve.

    I seem to remember you were the poster getting involved in arguments about issues affecting the near northside and trying to refute with your occasional experience of north county.

    Enough with the strawman arguments which veer off into the county and state parks or uncharted wilderness. Let’s stay focused on urban issues.

    Note, this means “the city”.


  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Why not, dude?
    The ADA is civil rights legislation (as well as good policy). Creating inaccessible places discriminates against people with disabilities. Yes, there are, at times, cost implications, but when included at the start of any design project, the costs can be managed and minimized. The two areas where there are real challenges is in adapting existing sites and structures (including “all mountain summits or the remote forest preserve”) and in low-rise buildings, where elevators typically have not been included in the past.
    The ADA has required making “readily achievable” modifications to improve access for years, as well as requiring the assessment of existing problems and the development of a phased implementation plan on most commercial facilities. The unfortunate reality, in too many cases, is that without significant enforcement efforts, compliance has “fallen off the radar” and, for the most part, has stalled, especially locally. I expect that Steve, with his new perspective, will work to raise the visibility.
    The urban design challenge with low-rise buildings is that you don’t need an elevator in a one-story building and your tenants or buyers will demand one if the building is more than 3 or 4 stories tall. That leaves balancing the cost versus the benefit of adding an elevator to 2 and 3-story buildings – my gut feeling is that the law of unintended consequences kicks in, in too many cases, especially in areas with relatively cheap ground (like most areas around here), and the decision is made to simply build a one story structure, resulting in increased sprawl.

  5. rick says:

    One of the nicest things to see in National Parks is when the Service installs accessible paths deep into the park areas. You see alot in places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.
    As we all get older, it’s good to know accomodations are being made to keep these public places available to as many people as possible.

  6. dude says:

    I’m not veering off into the county but Steve’s original post did. I don’t know the answer to my own question. I’m all for curb cuts. Steve did mention something about physical exertion and being more connected to the environment after some accomplishment. Keeping a place of solitude and making a place chair accessible may be incompatible is my point. I’m not talking about what things cost.

  7. Nick Kasoff says:

    Steve – If you want to be really p*ssed, take Metrolink to the Maplewood-Manchester stop and try to get to the eastbound bus stop (on the south side of Manchester Road).


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