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Read our earlier coverage of problems disabled people face being out and about on unsafe roadways.



Wheelchair "scooter" users nationwide press case for sidewalks, safer highways

With increasing number of people using motorized scooters and wheelchairs, communities are starting to face up to the problem of unsafe highways. Many communities are considering sidewalks.

Public transportation has always been an iffy thing for wheelchair users. Many opt to use their motorized chairs to travel around their communities. But that, too, has its problems. In many cases it's just plain dangerous. Across the nation, disabled people who use their wheelchairs and scooters to travel around their towns are pushing for more accessible sidewalks -- or simply the presence of sidewalks in communities that have none.

Paintsville, KY, a "town of 4,000 in the heart of Kentucky's coalfields -- a region with historically high numbers of disabled residents -- seems almost overrun" with "scooters and motorized wheelchairs," wrote AP reporter Roger Alford in a Sept. 11 story, and wheelchair riders driving along the busy streets to "Wal-Mart, restaurants and beauty salons" worry motorists -- because there are no sidewalks.

Alford's story is actualy about the numbers of residents who have been able to acquire motorized scooters through Medicare. "Medicare payments for the devices rose from $22.3 million in 1995 to $666.5 million in 2003."Scooter user Haller told Alford there were at least 50 others in her apartment building who also had the vehicles "It's been a lifesaver for me, and for many others," she said. "We ride our buggies everywhere."

Alford seemed amazed at how many people had scooter, quoting sales reps who pointed out that people were for the first time able to get out and abou

Thus, the highway congestion problem.

"You look up and see big trucks passing," Haller said. "I feel like they get pretty close to us. You've got to keep your eyes on the road and on the people, especially at intersections. If they don't offer to wave you across, you'd better sit still and wait your turn."

But perhaps because the population of wheelchair and scooter users is so high, local officials seem unusually interested in addressing the problem. Mayor Doug Pugh told Alford "the government helped create the problem and should help pay for sidewalks that would solve it."

The problem isn't restricted to Kentucky by any means. Franklinton, Louisiana's Board of Aldermen heard stories in September of people in their community needing sidewalks as well. The folks "on motorized wheelchairs, riding lawnmowers and scooters traveling down the streets" had "no regard for traffic laws," Franklinton farmer Gene White told the Board. "It gets dangerous."

Franklinton police officer Chad Dorsett explained to the Bogalusa Daily News that "we've been getting them off of the road due to possible problems with the traffic."

"The planned implementation of new, handicapped-accessible sidewalks would help," the article noted, adding that "those in wheelchairs should travel with a flag or umbrella to increase visibility."

At the opposite end of the nation, Tilton, NH finally got the sidewalk it needed, says Ragged Edge reader William Tinker, who wrote last November of the problem wheelchair-using residents of the small New Hampshire community had in getting to stores. It will be "well appreciated by those of us of the disabled community who will use it to get to our banks, to Walmart, the Market Basket, Shaws and other places."

Problems remain. "How can an elderly or disabled person get across the road to the Tilton NH Post Office?" There apparently was no plan for a traffic light. "You must get across the road in 20 seconds or become a potential victim" of drivers that speed through the 35-mile-an-hour zone at least 20 miles over the speed limit.

In Houston, a city with plenty of sidewalks, the problem is accessibility. The city has now been told by a federal judge that it must install curb-cuts and ensure sidewalk access when it does road construction or repair. The ruling came in a suit filed by wheelchair user Kristen Jones, over a construction projct in wich the city redid a median but did not install curb cuts in the median.

"When they resurface the street, they are supposed to use that opportunity to bring all the curb ramps up to ADA compliance, so somebody in a wheelchair can get up and down the sidewalk," Dan Lundeen, Jones' attorney, told reporters.

Jones said she simply got tired of trying to negotiate city sidewalks.

"I've had times when I've had to go right in the street in Houston. Riding in the street, especially on a busy street, is dangerous," she said.

Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, of the US District Court of the Southern District of Texas ordered the City of Houston and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County to "improve accessibility for persons with disabilities as a part of street and traffic signal improvements under the ADA and Texas Architectural Barriers Act," according to a news release.

An hearing was to have taken place last Friday to work out details.

And in Sandusky, Ohio, where Kelly Dillery ignited a national disability protest when she was arrested for riding her wheelchair in the street due to broken and inaccessible sidewalks. a federal appeals court has just told the city that it must, by law, install and maintain curb cuts.

The city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it refused to install curb cuts when it renovated sidewalks and curbs, said the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an opinion handed down Oct. 1.

The ruling upholds the lower-court decision in a case filed in 1999 by the Ability Center, Toledo's independent living center. The appeals court also ruled that Sandusky could not be sued over its lack of an ADA "transition plan" -- but that it could be sued for failure to install curb cuts. Read Circuit Court Decision (PDF file)

Posted Oct. 25, 2004.

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