Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wheelchairs and sidewalks

I don't know much about Micanopy. It's a small Florida town that you might just drive through without ever noticing it was there. I only know it as the place where "Blue Highway" used to be, one of the best pizzerias in the area. I last ate there nine years ago, as my law school friends loved to eat out and explore and from what I hear it's not even there anymore. There's many towns like this in Florida- of two intersections and a gas station variety, but they rarely make the news. Micanopy did I believe last week, when it took a stand against being more pedestrian and disability friendly. Not something one should be proud about.  The town had a chance to put in sidewalks on its busiest street, so people wouldn't have to go through grass or walk in the street.Micanopy officials say that they get particularly concerned when there are festivities  and a large number  of people turn up and tries to get around. Many end up in traffic. The main concern was safety, there's a lot of older residents and visitors who can't  get around much. Getting through dirt and grass in a wheelchair is virtually impossible. The measure would also drive customers to the businesses located in the area as the access would be easier. From what I understood, the construction costs would be covered by federal funds. So everybody wins, right? Wrong. The measure was voted down. A very energetic old gentleman rallied the town and convinced decision makers that sidewalks will ruin the "historic" feel of it. I hope that he himself isn't in a wheelchair fearing for his life as he is trying to get somewhere, navigating between cars, trying to not get hit. I had the misfortune in being in a part of my own city, Gainesville where there weren't any sidewalks to walk on, although it did have a bike lane. Still, the proximity of the cars and the realization that I'm inches away from being hit gave me a panic attack. Being in a wheelchair I don't have the option to jump out of a car's way if it comes too close. I'm much lower than a person standing up so a lot of times they may not even properly see me. Given how fast they drive, by the time they do, it may be too late. When I'm going up or down the hill I'm  risking losing control over my wheelchair as it may roll back or forward and I have a very limited space, not much wider than a chair itself to do anything. A friend of mine said, after I told him the story that it's just a small backwards town. I don't care how big it is. If I lived there I'd probably never leave my house because I'd be so scared that something will hit me. I will never understand how somebody can choose aesthetics over safety. And that's assuming that sidewalks make the towns uglier in any sense or destroying their charm. I just hope that whoever voted against the construction can live with any injuries and fatalities that follow. But this again reminds that we have our work cut out for us at the Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation. People don't think of the needs of disability community unless they have to- quite frankly until it's something that they have to face themselves.

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