Columbia officials working to make downtown more ADA accessible
COLUMBIA - Michelle Adams has been in a wheelchair for as long as she can remember. Born with Spina Bifida, she relies on a manual and power chair to aide her with mobility.
Living in downtown Columbia over the past several years, Adams said she has seen gradual improvements in the availability of services and accessibility for people with disabilities. However, certain areas still need to be modified with the community of people with disabilities in mind.
"If the sidewalks are badly messed up, and the street is badly messed up, where is anyone supposed to walk or drive in a wheelchair safely?" Adams said.
3.6 million Americans rely on wheelchairs to get around according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and more than 36,000 wheelchair-related accidents happen every year according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.
"I personally know someone who lives in the apartment who tripped on a bump or crack on the outside of the building and broke their foot," Adams said.
Street Superintendent Sam Thomas works for the city of Columbia and said it's important that the community speak out about the drawbacks of traveling downtown so those issues can be addressed.
"The system is complaint driven," Thomas said. "Citizens can report pot holes, but they don't really need to do that, what's more important to them is a trip hazard that would be for the walking but also a hazard in a chair."
Thomas goes on walk-alongs each year with Adams and others in the community in an effort to create a partnership while working toward solutions.
"We came up the idea to walk-along with the folks in the wheelchairs and see what they go through," Thomas said.
He said whenever the budget allows for it, the city conducts what is called "street shaving" to smooth the pavement and the department does its best to keep ramps and sidewalks up to code with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
July marks the 25th anniversary of the ADA measure signed into law, which prohibits discrimination and promotes equal opportunity for those with disabilities.
The City of Columbia developed a three-step ADA Transition Plan in 2009 and is largely focused on phase two of that agenda, geared at improving pedestrian areas.