Columbia Works Towards Becoming More Accessible

Accessibility for people with disabilities in Columbia has been a problem for many years.

The sidewalk conditions, parking issues, lack of accessible housing and limited handicap transportation options are a few of the problems that are still in need of improvement.

In 1993, the city of Columbia released their three-phase plan to make sure the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was being enforced. To update the plan, it was revised in 2009. Although two of the three phases have been completed, there is still much more that needs to be done.

According to the city of Columbia’s website, the first phase was to develop an ongoing program to review city facilities to make sure they comply with the ADA regulations. The second phase addresses the ADA’s needs for pedestrian facilities, while the third phase looks at programs in the city to make sure everyone can participate and have equal opportunities.

The city has completed step two and three of the plan and that there is still ongoing work being done to improve accessibility Adam Kruse said, the assistant city counselor and attorney for Columbia regarding ADA compliance issues.

The city contracted with Gerald Morgan, a professional architect, in 2009 to access city facilities, make recommendations, and provide a written report to assist the city in ADA compliance. Morgan completed his recommendations in 2011 and the city departments began their renovations in 2012. The current goal is to finish the recommendations by 2017, Kruse said.

Ann Marie Gortmaker, the outreach specialist for Services for Independent Living, recently attended the monthly disabilities commissions meeting. She found out that although a lot is still being done regarding accessibility, there is still much more to be done.

“There needs to be much more progress done on accessible pedestrian intersection crossing signals,” Gortmaker said.

Scout Merry, the Services for Independent Living access services manager, said the key to making changes and improvements in the community is for everyone in the community to be aware of accessibility.

“The more people understand who and why accessibility improvements are helpful, the more they can support the changes being made,” Merry said. “Accessibility improvements often help a much wider group than just people with disabilities.”

These improvements help people using walkers, strollers, carts or dollies. Merry said, for example, that curb ramp helps more than just people in wheelchairs. Most people just don’t notice these improvements that have been already added.

One of the most common complaints Merry hears in Columbia is about the disrepair of sidewalks. Many people who use wheelchairs face dangerous barriers on sidewalks including steep slopes, small widths, bricks, cracks, no ramps, uneven transitions and more.

Dawn Zeterberg has been using a wheelchair for many years and said her “world opened up” when she moved to Columbia. She serves on three city committees: the Disabilities Commission, the Mayor’s Task Force on Pedestrian Safety and the Public Transit Advisory Commission. This way she can use her voice to speak up for the disabled community.

“I try to go wherever I want, and when I can’t, I speak up,” Zeterberg said. “I want to end stereotypes. I want change.”

Zeterberg said Columbia needs more options for accessible transportation and needs more affordable accessible housing.

“There isn’t a taxi service that can offer rides to those in wheelchairs,” Zeterberg said. “I rely on the bus service to get me to where I need to be.”

When it comes to housing, there isn’t any options outside of downtown Columbia.

“The Freedom House and the Paquin Tower are the only two affordable accessible housing options in Columbia,” Zeterberg said. “We need more affordable accessible housing somewhere other than downtown.”

Gretchen Roberts is the mother of 11-year-old Blake Roberts. Blake has been in a wheelchair since he was born.

“The disabled world’s needs are so big and so broad it’s hard to help them all, but I don’t think we’ve made it even to the middle yet,” Roberts said. “It’s hard because so many people have different needs, so it’s hard to find an umbrella to cover all of them.”

The disabilities commission will continue to meet once a month advising the City Council on all issues impacting people with disabilities and will address community accessibility issues.

“The city is always striving to make the community more accessible,” Kruse said. “There are always projects going on in the various departments which involve accessibility.”

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