Thursday, April 23, 2009

Disability-for-a-Day 2009

On April 22, 2009, the local Disability Awareness Starts Here (DASH) organization coordinated the 7th annual Disability-for-a-Day event.

The County Auditor, County Administrator, and County Transportation Planner were among the participants who volunteered to experience a simulation of what it is like to try to get around town with a disability. A County Planning Commissioner, the Chair and a member of the Port Townsend Non-Motorized Transportation Advisory Board (PT NMTAB), and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) State Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator also participated.

From DASH's description of the event on its website:

Each participant has his or her sight or mobility limited in some fashion and will then spend the day completing a list of real-life tasks, including evaluating designated emergency points of refuge in and around Port Townsend [and Port Hadlock], riding the bus, and walking or wheeling along the city’s streets and sidewalks.
The simulated disabilities included blindness, macular degeneration, condition of the legs requiring use of a wheelchair, leg and feet condition requiring the use of a walker, and condition preventing or limiting the use of a hand or arm. Guides included disabled and able-bodied DASH Board members and other volunteers. Teams of participants set out on missions to get to and from specific points of business or other landmarks. Some utilized the Jefferson Transit system.

Read the April 23 article in the Peninsula Daily News for descriptions of the event and quotes from organizers and participants.

My story...

For my part, I was provided a walker (without wheels) and "maimed" in the following way: left leg brace, purposely uncomfortable shoe liner for my right foot, oven mitt-style for my right hand packed with packing pellets (that limited use of my dominant hand and cause it to stay in a state of sweat for several hours), and a pair of sunglasses with large red spots to simulate macular degeneration. (Click on the photo above that Marion Huxtable took for a closer look.) I will attest that this combination was effective in making it uncomfortable and awkward to get around. In other words, it worked.

I was with a group of four. The other participant, Bill Miller of the Planning Commission, had a blindfold and a cane. Our two guides were DASH Board President Lynn Gressley, who has been blind for 30 years, and DASH Board member Marion Huxtable, who is also active in transportation-related community initiatives. Thank you to our guides for keeping us safe and providing us with an eye-opening experience! (Bad pun here, I suppose. Sorry!)

We walked (i.e., stumbled around) from the hospital to the Transit bus stop on Upper Sims Way adjacent to the QFC plaza. Coincidentally, a person in a wheelchair boarded the bus when we did, and remarkably, another person in a wheelchair boarded at the County Libary in Port Hadlock. We got off at the Post Office in Hadlock and after checking out that facility from the perspective of a disabled person, walked toward the Hadlock crossroads (intesection of State Route 116, Irondale Road and Chimacum Road) and made our way to the opposite corner. By guiding Lynn across this four-way stop controlled intersection, I was able to learn how a facility that may function well enough for motor vehciles, at the same time may be dangerous and disorienting for disabled pedestrians.
We then visited the Valley Tavern and spoke with the owner, Chuck Russell, who told us that some of his regulars are wheelchair users. The next mission was to cross the intersection again and walk along Nesses Corner Road (SR 116) all the way to Rhody Drive (SR 19), cross without the benefit of a crosswalk, and continue north to the Transit stop in front of Fiesta Jalisco.

That's a fair amount of walking for a fully-abled person in good shape and in comfortable shoes. The most discomfort for me was in my right foot--courtesy of the lumpy shoe liner--and in my wrists from continually moving and leaning on the walker. (Did I mention that my walker had no wheels?)

Experiencing mobility challenges from the perspective of my set of simulated disabilities, Bill's faux blindness and Lynn's real blindness was enlightening. Though it is in the realm of my job as a transportation planner to pay attendtion to things like road shoulders, sidewalks, curbs, driveways, intersection crossings, and the like, it is another thing to actually experience the difference an inch or two, or a pothole or other obstacle here and there, can make to a disabled person attempting to negotiate these faciliies. Then there are issues with buildings, such as door widths and bathroom dimensions. I am resolved to convert my participation in this event into experiential wisdom that will be reflected in future county transportation planning and improvement projects.

We already have plans to develop a Tri-Area non-motorized transportation network plan. The need for this plan to include input from the disabled community is paramount, particularly because, according to DASH Board member Marion Huxtable:

The 2005-2007 census (American Community Survey) shows that Jefferson County has a larger than average percentage of people with disabilities and people older than 65. Ten percent of children aged fived through 15, 17.6% of people aged 16 through 64 and 33.8 % of over 65’s have a disability. Twenty one percent of the population is over 65. The percentage of older adults in the county appears to be growing and so the percentage of people with disabilities is also growing.
This includes all kinds of disabilities. It seems shocking to me. It is a lot of people to accommodate with transportation.

The Tri-Area non-motorized network plan will concentrate on users of the local transportation system other than motorists. This "complete streets" notion pays express attention to various types of pedestrians--including wheelchair users, sight-impaired, elderly and children--as well as bicyclists and public transit users. The non-motorized network plan will supplement and enhance the transportation improvement project priorization effort Public Works is currently managing for the Quimper Peninsula, as well as the SR 19/20 corridor plan that WSDOT is coordinating. The next step is to identify possible funding sources and acquire the funds to carry out the Tri-Area non-motorized network planning process.

The bottom line is that I had a valuable learning experience yesterday and that I aim to improve future transportation plans and projects as a result. Thanks to DASH for the invitation!


Marion said...

Some positive impressions:
How ably a County Planning Commissioner coped with being blind. His secret seemed to be to stay calm and learn fast.
How stoic and uncomplaining a County Transportation Planner was in dealing with multiple disabilities for the better part of a day.
How friendly and helpful the bus drivers are especially to the many passengers who need extra help.
I was thankful that in Port Hadlock we had wide shoulders free of potholes that could easily have caused a fall. It was actually easier than negotiating PT sidewalks with their frequent bumps and dips and foot-deep gutters. For example, when we got off the bus onto a nice smooth sidewalk, we soon found ourselves up against deep bushes, a grassy embankment and a parking lot to be negotiated before we could get back to the safety of the hospital. How do sick and disabled patients manage to find their way in?

Anonymous said...

Awareness of dissablities so we need to champion stem cell research so at some point they can splice genes or whatever it takes to get rid of these diseases before anyone is born with them, however my problem is from an injury, its uncomfortable for normal people to see anyone who is less able than they are.
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