Walking a mile in their shoes
BUCKHANNON — A contingent of people with a variety of physical limitations feel Buckhannon has already done a lot to make the city more accessible, but those who attended the Walk a Mile in My Shoes exercise Monday saw there are is still a need for improvement.
Christina Romine is blind and maneuvers city streets with the help of her seeing eye dog, Randi.
She said downtown sidewalks are in good shape and the new ADA points have also made walking easier.
“If the lines are painted good right where she can see them, that helps,” she said.
“She becomes used to those to and she will go to those when she comes to an intersection,” she said of the new ADA raised ramps.
“My biggest problem is sidewalk areas where they are broken and have holes,” she said. “She will try to avoid them but she doesn’t like to step off the sidewalk unless she has to. The other problem I have is nobody stops. They do not know that pedestrians have the right-of-way for some reason. I have already been hit once.
“It’s not just at the intersection – car washes, restaurants, they will pull right in front of you. Some people will sit there and wait for multiple cars to go – there are some people who are so considerate and I would like to thank them. They will let car after car go and be holding that for me so I can go through.”
But Romine wanted the public to know that sometimes she does wave cars through because she cannot hear.
“If it’s loud, I can’t hear the other cars moving so I will wave that one through,” she said. “Electric cars, I can’t hear them at all hardly.”
B.J. Samples uses a motorized wheelchair and said he had been impressed by the work already completed.
“I’m impressed,” he said. “You guys have really done a lot of work. It’s very smooth going down there.”
But Samples said there are two areas he has noticed are a problem – one is the ramp at the intersection of Main and South Spring Street which has a big puddle of water during and after rainfall.
“Kanawha Street by First Community Bank, you have to be in the road because the sidewalks do not have ramps on them,” he said.
“I think this probably has to be one of the best towns in the state for getting around,” he said.
Samples suggested sidewalks along Vicksburg to the Poe Bridge would help for residents in that area who do not drive.
Keith Wolverton often uses a motorized scooter or navigates using crutches.
“I’m also impressed that our town would do something like this to where we can get around better,” he said.
Wolverton said he has learned overtime places to avoid and pointed to Marion Street sidewalks that are not good for his scooter. One side of Kanawha Hill is difficult to maneuver on the sidewalk.
“I literally go down Marion Street because I can’t drive on the sidewalk,” he said. “Once I get on the streets, that puts me in danger. I’m just having faith on Marion that someone is not going to hit me.
People have asked me – are you allowed on the street? You’re darn right I am allowed on the streets.”
When it comes to shopping, Wolverton said that over 75 percent of the businesses in Buckhannon he can’t maneuver with his scooter.
But Wolverton said he is fortunate to live in a place where people want to help.
Councilman Dave Thomas lost his sight 26 years ago.
“I think we live in a great community and I think the mayor has a lot to do with that,” he said. “He is very understanding and wants to help those individuals that have our challenges.”
Thomas also said that West Virginia Wesleyan College had been one of the best institutions in the state as far as working with people who have physical challenges.
Ron Pugh said, “Several years ago when I was on city council, Jerry Henderson and I were tasked to chair a survey and see what we could do about the ADA problems. I never thought I would have to use canes, a walker or a scooter but here I am today having to do that stuff. What you have done Jerry and what the city has done, Mr. Mayor, is truly astonishing.”
Dr. Ron Eck, senior advisor and instructor of the West Virginia Local Technical Assistance Program said it was rewarding for him to see what director of public works Jerry Arnold and ADA compliance officer Brad Hawkins had done in Buckhannon since their class.
“You’ve done quite a bit so I commend you for that,” he said. “West Virginia has a relatively high disability population. The national average is 12 percent disability population. Notice we are almost at 19 percent. It’s the highest rating in the United States.”
Eck said accessibility is important because everyone benefits and it is the law.
For West Virginians with disabilities between age 18-64, 57.2% have a mobility disability, 39.7% have a cognitive disability, 23% have a hearing disability, 17.9 percent have a vision disability and 17.4 percent have difficulty with self-care.
The West Virginia Department of Transportation has adapted Public Rights of Way Accessibilities Guidelines as the standard in West Virginia and is what the City of Buckhannon is following.
“I commend you all for your efforts and really kind of being a leader in West Virginia in this area,” he said.
Arnold said in the past five years the City of Buckhannon has repaired and replacement 8.2 miles or 43 percent of the sidewalk in city limits. The city and the WVDOH have upgrades 153 or 56 percent of all curb ramps.
There have also been ADA accommodations made at both major city parks including playground equipment.
“North Buckhannon has been completely made ADA complaint,” he said.
There is more work to be done and Arnold said there is an assessment being done of all city sidewalks, buildings, parks and entertainment venues. Once areas are identified and the public is also engaged to develop a list of actions needed, those projects will be prioritized and given timelines and budgets.
The City of Buckhannon will also work on making its construction sites such as when a water or sewer line is being repaired, more ADA-friendly.
Following the discussion, participants including city employees hit the streets with canes, vision loss goggles and wheelchairs and scooters to experience a small part of what it is like to navigate Buckhannon with physical limitations.
Mayor David McCauley said, “Today’s exercise is all about empathy and inclusivity. It’s about recognizing that we as a community can always do better by those who are physically or mentally challenged or those who due to age may not be as spry as they once were and who we can make getting around a little easier.”