9th street obstacles 1

I am probably more excited than most.  This plan potentially means that I can go get a cheeseburger whenever I want, and in my case, cheeseburgers mean freedom.

I spent part of the afternoon on Tuesday meeting with some cool and influential people.  There was Sarah Bishop, the grant writer for the Lawrence Arts Center, Josh Shelton, from El Dorado Architecture in Kansas City, Chris Tilden, Director of Community Health at the Lawrence/Douglas County Health Department, Porter Arneill, Lawrence Director of Arts and Culture and Amy Volweider, my case manager.

In June 2014, the Lawrence Arts Center won a $500,000 ArtPlace America grant.  The city will provide an additional $3.1 million to create an “art corridor” and “integrate public art into the seven blocks of Massachusetts and Delaware streets, along with city-funded improvements to the street and walkways” in Lawrence, my hometown, according to an October 18th article in the Lawrence Journal-World.  The project is called the east ninth project.  I met with the group to talk about accessibility issues.

We went about one block into the area and found numerous obstacles including pot holes, cracks in the sidewalks, surfaces that were uneven or covered with grass (that would be difficult to roll a wheelchair over) and curb cuts that were too steep for me to access on my own.  It was apparent pretty quickly there were many improvements to be made.

Josh asked me what my goals were in terms of accessibility.  I explained that my life is surrounded by caregivers, because I need help with daily tasks like getting in and out of the shower and putting on my shoes.  I also don’t drive.  Therefore, anything I can do independently, without the assistance of my caregivers, would totally light me up!  The example I gave him was that I wanted to be able to be in my house on a given day and decide on a whim that I wanted a cheeseburger from a restaurant downtown and to be able to go get one.  That meant what I wanted was a completely accessible route from my house into downtown, since I can access a city-owned bike trail from my driveway.

Nobody in the group thought my request was unreasonable. So they started asking me questions.

Q: Are brick streets easy to go over in your power chair?

A: Nope, they are too uneven, concrete is much easier because the surface is smooth.

Q: Would you be offended if the route only one side of the street was accessible?

A: No. I am fully aware that not everything in the world is going to be totally accessible. If there was an accessible route from my house to downtown on one side of a street, and that made the difference between my being able to get out and about or having to stay home, I would leave my offended feelings in my driveway and take off, full speed ahead.

Q: What would you say to people who wanted to leave this part of town “historic” and keep all the brick streets and such?

A:  One of the reasons I love Lawrence is because it has an older, small town feel to me. I love looking at the architecture of old houses and strolling along Mass to frequent the small businesses that have been part of the community for years.

But I have a question.

As a community, looking to the years ahead, should our focus be on our past or our future?

Because in my experience, there comes a time in everyone’s life when they will need some sort of accessibility.  Baby boomers are getting older and using more walkers or wheelchairs.  Some relative could have a stroke at any moment.  Even someone who sprains their ankle and has to be on crutches for a while needs accessibility in their neighborhood temporarily.  Beyond people with disabilities, moms, and dads or babysitters pushing strollers or baby carriages could utilize curb cuts when they are out and about.

Speaking selfishly, if removing a brick sidewalk means that I get to participate in my community the way that I want to, versus having to stay home every time I don’t have a caregiver with me, I say let’s do it all yesterday.

One more thing to keep in mind.  When talking about making neighborhoods accessible, it has to be an “all or nothing” commitment.  If a route I am taking somewhere is 99% accessible, but along the way, there is a pothole or some gravel that I can’t navigate, I am going to turn around and go home, wearing my sad face for the rest of the day.  🙁  I am only half kidding.

In a society where I am often dismissed or my needs aren’t always considered, it was incredibly empowering to meet with this group of people on Tuesday afternoon who were sincerely interested in what I had to say.

I am starting to believe that I will be able to get that cheeseburger by myself someday soon.  I like mine medium rare.

Nothing in the world will taste as good!