“This is tough. I’m not even going to try to open the door because I roll down the incline,” said City Councilor Barbara Noseworthy as she tried to get into the U.S. Post Office on Sunday while in a wheelchair.
Noseworthy and City Councilor Melissa Youssef spent the morning negotiating their way through downtown Durango in wheelchairs to get a greater appreciation of the obstacles people with disabilities face getting around town.
The effort came on the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires cities, counties and school districts to make reasonable accommodations to facilitate access for disabled people – it’s the reason you now see sidewalk cuts flush with the streets at intersections across the country.
“The Community Relations Commission wanted us to get a better understanding of how hard it is for people who use wheelchairs to get around,” Noseworthy said.
Youssef said Noseworthy and she were interested in examining the sidewalk cuts and other accommodations made for people who use wheelchairs. They want to ensure they are properly maintained and they are looking for other ideas to help people with disabilities get around town.
It quickly became apparent to the two city councilors that minor imperfections suddenly seemed like bigger issues when you’re in a wheelchair.
“You notice every crack in the asphalt. You need more time crossing the street,” Youssef said.
Noseworthy said it’s important for the city to continually invest in new infrastructure and maintain existing infrastructure, such as the sidewalk cuts.
“It’s continuous improvements that will help. It’s not one thing or one annual appropriation. There’s no silver bullet. It’s continuous investments and improvements that will help,” Noseworthy said.
She added the benefits to ADA-accessible bathrooms, sidewalks and ramps help older people, people with joint problems or people dealing with an array of other health issues.
Martha Mason, executive director of the Southwest Center for Independence, said, “The ADA made access a civil right. It’s changed the lives of countless people with disabilities so we could have access to places and activities everyone else has.”