Going for a walk or parking a car are everyday tasks most people take for granted.
If you are walking and see a bump of one or two inches where the sidewalk has heaved, you probably just step over it and go on your way. If the sidewalk ends, you just continue walking in the grass.
When you go shopping, if you can’t find a close parking place, you may grumble about having to walk a little further, but you do and continue with your errands. Then, when you come out of the store, you notice someone has parked right beside you. You may momentarily worry about a door ding before sliding behind the wheel and heading to your next stop.
Now, consider if that two inch bump in the sidewalk was 12 inches high. Would you be worried about tripping and start looking for a flatter spot to walk around the unexpected obstacle? What if there was a significant drop between the spot where that sidewalk ended and the grass started? You would naturally be a little more cautious taking that first step.
Remember that guy that parked right beside you at the store? How would you react if it was two people on either side of you and there was no way you could open your door to leave until one of those customers returns?
You may be thinking these are unlikely scenarios that would never actually happen. However, these are the types of concerns people with disabilities are faced with on a daily basis.
I know this because I am dependent on a power wheelchair and a handicapped accessible van for my mobility. Before purchasing my first handicapped accessible van I relied solely on my wheelchair to make the 20 minute trek from my apartment at the south end of Clarinda to our office on Main Street. I quickly discovered there were only certain blocks that had sidewalks and, if they did, there were no ramps at the ends of those blocks to allow me to utilize the sidewalk.
Instead, I was relegated to the potentially dangerous reality of traveling in the street. Although I tried to stick to less traveled streets, I still had to cross typically busy South 16th Street at some point during my trip. Not to mention contending with a myriad of weather conditions including snow, ice, freezing temperatures, rain and darkness.
Although my van has eliminated the need to go to work in my wheelchair, I still have to be on the lookout for sidewalks that have buckled or end abruptly. Like most people who rely on a wheelchair, it is second nature to continually scan for such obstacles and look for the smoothest route available. If you have infants, you probably do the same thing when pushing a baby stroller.
Before getting my van, I have to admit I did not pay a lot of attention to the handicapped parking options in Clarinda. I saw the signs and knew not to park in those spots, but I didn’t give it much more thought than that. However, when it impacted my life directly and I had to find places to drop my side-entry ramp to get in and out of my van, I became much more aware of my parking options.
The next time you go to the store, take a closer look at the handicapped parking stalls. See those sections of the parking stalls that have hash marks in them? Those are not parking stalls! That is the reserved area for handicapped vans to lower their ramps to allow people in wheelchairs to enter and exit.
Unfortunately, I have seen this violated on numerous occasions. I have seen a car squeeze into this space between two other cars with handicap tags. I even saw a neighbor from my apartment building park directly across from me in one of the hash mark areas at a local grocery store. When I got out and mentioned it, he still seemed oblivious to the problem.
Last week, I profiled the Healthy Hometown Initiative underway in Clarinda. This program is focusing on ways to provide healthier choices for the residents of Clarinda. One way this is being done is by improving the opportunities for walking or riding a bicycle in the city.
To that end, a walking audit of a small section of Clarinda near the Lied Public Library was conducted Oct. 22, 2019. A total of 16 people participated in the audit to evaluate the condition of the sidewalks and intersections in Clarinda. Among those 16 people was Lori Veach, a local resident who depends on a combination of prosthetics or a wheelchair for her mobility.
When I interviewed Clarinda City Manager Gary McClarnon for the story on the Healthy Hometown Initiative, he said seeing Veach attempting to navigate the streets, sidewalks and corners during the audit was an eye-opening experience. He said he never fully understood the challenges people with disabilities face until he saw it firsthand.
I am very happy to say that because of that walking audit, the city of Clarinda has already implemented programs that will benefit all residents of the city and especially those with disabilities. The city now requires sidewalks to be included in all new subdivisions and has offered a matching program where people can share the cost of replacing a damaged sidewalk, or installing a new sidewalk, with the city.
The city is also working toward installing Americans with Disabilities Act compliant ramps at all intersections in the city. Additional van-accessible parking around the downtown square may also be available in the near future.
Meanwhile, the Clarinda Community School District Board of Directors has also discussed options for improving handicapped parking at its various buildings as well as at Cardinal Field. This would be another important step forward for the community as a whole.
I commend both the city of Clarinda and the school district for the work they have done and the projects they have planned. At the same time, I encourage other cities to make an objective evaluation of their accessibility. A financial investment in this area today will pay dividends for a city, and its businesses, for many years to come.