Demanding Safe Passage for Americans with Disabilities

Navigating the streets and sidewalks of the United States can be a challenge even for an able-bodied pedestrian or cyclist. For people who depend on wheelchairs to get around, the challenges are too often insurmountable — nearly two decades since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Fortunately, the problem is beginning to get some more attention, in part because of the actions of advocates like those at the National Complete Streets Coalition, who are working to implement complete streets policies around the country and at the federal level.

4064803384_4ff0854ec4_b.jpgCurb cut to nowhere, near the spot where a driver killed a St. Louis woman using a wheelchair in the street.

But in too many American towns and cities, the disregard for people with disabilities is rampant. Today on the Streetsblog Network, we’ve got a post from Steve Patterson at Urban Review STL. Steve, whom we profiled a couple of months back, had a severe hemorrhagic stroke almost two years ago, and has been using a wheelchair to get around his downtown St. Louis neighborhood. But even before his stroke, he was concerned with the number of sidewalks that are impassable for wheelchair users, forcing them into the street.

Yesterday, he marked a sad anniversary on his blog:

Four years ago today Elizabeth Bansen was struck and killed by an SUV
as she returned home from the market two blocks east of her apartment. Although the accident occurred around 6pm, the driver didn’t see Bansen in
her wheelchair on the street.  On December 6th 2007 I posted on the
jury finding the city negligent in Bansen’s death since the sidewalks
were not passable.…

Yesterday I drove over to see the
couple of blocks along Delmar to see if the sidewalks between the
housing and the market were corrected.  Sadly, the situation is exactly
like I found it in December 2007.

In Jackson, Mississippi, the situation is just as bad. There, one persistent man — Dr. Scott Crawford — has worked to draw attention to the pathetic condition of the local sidewalks.

We first heard about Crawford nearly a year ago through Transportation for America, when he sent them some pictures documenting the lack of access to bus stops for people with disabilities. Crawford’s advocacy got attention from local news outlets. And just a few days ago he was featured in a major USA Today story about how the nation’s crumbling and inadequate sidewalks are putting wheelchair users at risk across the country.

Crawford, who is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit focused on forcing Jackson to comply with the ADA, is a good example of how local advocates can move the debate on an issue of vital importance. He’s a real inspiration.

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