'Disability for a Day' promotes equal access

Community leaders experience use of wheelchairs

City leaders use wheelchairs for a day

BEND, Ore. - Several Central Oregon community leaders experienced a day with a disability as Central Oregon Coalition for Access put on their annual event Monday, raising awareness for the American's with Disabilities Act.

The participants borrowed wheelchairs for a couple of hours and said it was a major eye-opener, as they saw the city in a whole new way.

"I've seen people that after the event will just go on with their lives," said COCA Steering Committee member Bend Hill. "I've seen other people that have literally changed the way they work, like city workers, street workers, and ODOT."

Hill has been in a wheelchair for 26 years. He looks forward each year to the 'Disability for a Day' event.

"There are points where the sidewalk is sloped this way, and you're really afraid you're going to topple over into traffic," said Bend City Councilor Victor Chudowsky, who took part in the event. "So people have to keep in mind that it's not just the matter of difficulty. In some cases, it's dangerous."

A door without an automatic opener or a simple curb poses a big challenge every day for people with a disability.

"If I have to use a curb ramp that's a mile or a block down the road, I'm not going to go there," Hill said.

Advocates say the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed 23 years ago this week, is not just a set of guidelines to build a city. They say it points to the bigger picture: civil rights.

"When accessibility is not good, it disenfranchises so many people who want to participate, and go to jobs and restaurants," said COCA Steering Committee member Carol Fulkerson.

"I think what it boils down to is equality," said Chudowsky. "People who have disabilities or are in a wheelchair want to same opportunity."

City leaders are hopeful for the future. Chudowsky says a portion of the city's revenue is now put away each budget cycle, leaving a set amount of money to upgrade more sidewalks and ramps throughout Bend.

"I just feel that the experience that these people had today will affect the designs and decisions they make going forward," Fulkerson said.

Advocates say they don't expect the city to change overnight, but there are ways for businesses to make the upgrades with tax breaks from the government.

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