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Five Questions for our March Coffee Chat

19 Mar

Weird times, right? But weirdness has never stopped Mode Shift in our mission. We will continue to conduct our regular monthly gatherings, but for the immediate future, we will be meeting virtually. For this month’s coffee chat, we are gathering via Google Hangouts. Let’s give it a try while we socially distance. You can join us using this link. Friday, March 20th at 8 a.m. You will have to provide your own coffee. This month we are talking about accessibility, specifically for those in our community who use mobility devices. Nancy Berg, a local accessibility activis, put together a panel. We’ve asked them five questions.

Nancy Berg is an Omaha native that was paralyzed when she was 16.  During her free time, she is a content creator for an Instagram account called @accessible402.  Her account features accessible and adaptive activities for wheelchair users in Omaha, Lincoln and surrounding areas.  

Logan Finn has Spina Bifida and has used a wheelchair for the last 30 years.  Five years ago he became a double amputee and moved to Omaha.  He relies on public transportation like MOBY to transport him from place to place.

Jerad Covey has Spinal Muscular Atrophy and uses a powerchair. He is a transportation/disability advocate that would like to see the creation of an on-demand, door-to-door transportation option for powerchair and scooter users in the greater Omaha metro area.

What are the transportation challenges facing people who use mobility devices?

Jerad:  I live outside of the limited MOBY paratransit service area, so my biggest challenge is finding reliable powerchair accommodating vans to transport me from place to place.  With my disability, it is outrageously expensive for me to purchase the necessary vehicle modifications in order to drive independently.  Any meaningful state funding assistance is withheld by cost containment criteria.

Nancy:  For those that drive their own vehicle, the biggest challenge can be finding an affordable vehicle that is easy to transfer in and out of.  Also finding a company that offers affordable vehicle adaptations so the vehicle can be driven can be hard.  My vehicle has been modified with hand controls, so that I am able to control the break and gas with my hands.  

Logan:  Besides the daily obstacle of finding reliable transportation, my biggest challenge is maneuvering my wheelchair.  Once I am dropped off at my destination, there can be issues like uneven sidewalks, missing curb cuts, gravel when crossing the street that can make wheeling a challenge.

What are the greatest accessibility issues in Omaha?

Logan:  MOBY has a fixed schedule that you have to abide by in order to get a ride, and all rides must be within 3/4 of a mile of the fixed Metro Bus route.  There are places that I am unable to go because the end location is out of range.  For example, I would love to start my own adaptive clothing line.  There are classes that I could take at Metropolitan Community College in Elkhorn, but there is not an affordable way for me to be transported there each week.

Jerad:  Powerchairs typically weigh 300 lbs therefore a modified vehicle with a ramp is required. I am unaware of any service in Omaha that provides accessible transportation for people like me beyond 6 pm. Even during daytime business hours, users complain of unreliable and unresponsive transportation to and from medical related appointments, not to mention errands and entertainment. 

Nancy: My biggest issue in regards to accessibility is that there is not enough accessible parking.  There are many trendy neighborhoods in Omaha that have fun restaurants, bars and shopping, but the lack of parking makes it hard to go to these places independently. 

Common parking issues:

  • Not enough accessible parking spots
  • Accessible parking spots with no access aisles making it impossible to get in/out of the vehicle with a wheelchair
  • People misusing accessible parking spaces by parking in them without a valid tag
  • People parking their vehicle on the access aisle or access ramp making it difficult to get to their vehicle
  • Van accessible spots have cars instead of vans parked in them.  There are some vans that rely in these spots because they have a side loading ramp.
  • Snow is also a huge problem.  I have seen snow plowed into accessible spots.  Access aisles are commonly not shoveled making it difficult to get to the vehicle.  Also, snow and slush often block curb cuts to the sidewalk.

What is a misconception you’d like to correct about people who use mobility devices like a wheelchair or scooter?

Jerad:  A misconception is that people with mobility issues wouldn’t use and enjoy safe, reliable, on-demand transportation. Because service has been so disappointing in the past, most users quit trying to rely on a broken system and therefore the statistics don’t accurately represent the need in our community.

Nancy:  A misconception is that people with disabilities can easily get into businesses without an issue.  It is 2020, so all places should be accessible… right?  I feel that accessibility and accommodations for people with mobility devices is often an afterthought or done at the bare minimum to make the business ADA compliant.  People with disabilities love to get out of their homes and interact with others.  Part of the reason I created my Instagram account @accessible402 was to show people that there are adaptive and accessible activities in our community, and it gives other wheelchair users the confidence and courage to go out and try these activities for themselves.

Logan:  Many people think that it is easy for wheelchair users to get around because they are on wheels.  Often I have issues getting to places safely.  As I mentioned before, uneven and cracked sidewalks, missing curb cuts, etc make transporting myself difficult at times.

When we talk about accessibility, what kind of language should we use, and what should we avoid? 

Jerad:  I don’t let language become a barrier. My concerns are with the level of training and professionalism by the service providers and their compassion for community members who seek to travel with individual mobility requirements.

Logan:  It is my personal opinion that language doesn’t matter as much.  It is the tone or the way the words are said that hurt the most.  There are some disabled people who are very picky and get very upset if you do not use the correct words, but they will not tell you what those words are and will just tell you the language to not use.

Nancy:  People can be very sensitive to language associated with disability.  There are many guides on the Internet if you are looking for respectful disability language. 

If you could magically change one thing in Omaha regarding transportation what would it be?

Jerad:  I would like to see medical facilities, businesses that value diversity, and individuals interested in progressing public transportation infrastructure – work together to create a public/private partnership that serves the mobility challenged in our community.

Logan:  I wish that Moby and the Metro Transit were not run the same way.  I would love for Moby to go to more locations within Omaha and the surrounding areas, and I would love to be able to use Moby at night.  I often take Moby to get to a place like a concert before service is done for that day.  Then, I will use Uber to get back home.  Since I depend on public transportation daily, Moby is affordable for me to use.

Nancy:  I would love public transportation to be easily accessible.  When I was in Las Vegas a few summers ago, it was so easy to find a taxi that I could wheel into and not have to get out of my chair.  This type of transportation was available at all hours, and it was so convenient.  I would love to have this type of spontaneous transportation in Omaha.

At this moment

18 Mar

As we experience this unprecedented time with you we want to share our plans and some opportunities to stay connected.

  • We appreciate the leadership from our local and state leaders.  It’s not an easy time to be in charge and we appreciate that they are taking this seriously.  Mayor Stothert, Adi Pour, our City Council Members and especially those in our medical community.  You have our support.
  • We are following the advice of our local leaders and our meetings are moving to the Google Hangouts platform.  Please follow our Facebook events page for more information.  
  • We anticipate that your commute has changed.  Maybe it’s less congested, maybe it’s a walk from your bed to your computer.  Tell us about it!
  • One thing we can do to help our bodies and our minds at this time is take a walk or ride a bike. It’s a good way to keep distance yet smile and wave at people across the street and experience the positive things that people are inserting into the world.  We will share some of these items on Instagram and start a Facebook feed where you can share as well.

We thank you all for doing what you can to stop the spread of Covid-19 in our community.  

Winter, Sidewalks and Curb Cuts – what is the solution?

4 Feb

We just came off of a warm weekend and the snow and ice that accumulated is finally melting.  It’s been a tough few weeks with thick ice lining sidewalks and streets and curb cuts buried under piles of snow.  Many business owners and home owners tried hard to keep their sidewalks and curb cuts accessible and admittedly it’s hard. Some didn’t try as hard or at all. 

Right now, we have a system where our snow plows clear the streets and often leave big piles of snow on the corner – and the curb cut.  It is then up to the property owner on the corner or their neighbors to try to shovel through the pile (which is often large and icy) to make it accessible.  We all know this isn’t working well. Even over the weekend, as I walked in the bright sunshine with well above freezing temperatures, most of the curb cuts still hadn’t fully melted and were difficult for many to cross.

Pictured:  Piles of snow placed on a curb cut – making the sidewalk non-accessible for scooters, wheelchairs, strollers etc.

Traversing sidewalks in winter is challenging for people of all abilities.  But for individuals with disabilities (and/or anyone with mobility difficulties) it is especially dangerous and sometimes travel isn’t even possible. Case in point, we asked an individual who uses a wheelchair to speak at one of our events in February; she declined until March because she wasn’t sure she would be able to get to a February event due to snow.  In the last week we have seen a mobility scooter rider cross a busy street with a pedestrian signal only to get to the other side and not be able to access the sidewalk due to a big pile of snow on the curb cut. This put the individual in a dangerous situation where they didn’t have the option to wait for a walk signal but had to keep moving (frogger-style between vehicles) until they could cross to a corner where the curb cut was accessible and they could get on the sidewalk.  (I can’t imagine the adrenaline pumping through their body as they watched a pickup coming toward them.) We’ve seen other scooter users encounter this issue throughout the city. We’ve seen wheelchair users abandon the sidewalks altogether and travel in the street. And people who are able to walk are struggling as well. We’ve seen an elderly man create a “sit on the big snowpile where the curb cut should be” method of crossing the street – sitting down on the snow was the only safe way to get across without falling.  Parents pushing strollers are forced into the streets with moving cars. I haven’t seen the woman that daily walks through my neighborhood pushing her walker – I imagine she is stuck inside. 

What is the solution?  Our current approach isn’t providing a safe, consistent solution and some people are truly stuck inside during the winter months. Some cities have paid employees that  make sure curb cuts are accessible. We invite you to leave ideas and examples you’ve found in other cities in the comments. Collectively we need to find a better way to deal with our sidewalks and our curb cuts in the winter months.  This is crucial for individuals with disabilities and would greatly improve the safety and quality of life for people of all abilities.