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RALEIGH – In this growing city, the needs of people with disabilities can be overlooked, prompting leaders in the disability rights community to demonstrate mobility needs.
Wake County, and its county seat Raleigh, North Carolina, is one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States. Growing more than 9 percent over the most recent decade, the city’s sprawl is poised to continue as increasing numbers of large tech and pharmaceutical companies locate their headquarters in the area.
“Our top three needs are housing, transportation, and employment,” said James Benton, who serves as the chairperson of the Mayor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. Benton said the transportation and public access issues are vital to the disabled community’s ability to partake fully in city life.
This issue came to a head in March 2016 when a driver in a growing section of town hit and killed a man in a wheelchair who was crossing the street.
Alexander Rhoades, a middle-schooler who lives in Raleigh with his family gained a new perspective on getting around when he developed a medical condition requiring frequent use of mobility aids.
Brian Rhoades, his father, said navigating the city using wheelchairs has been a learning experience. "We can manage, but it's been eye-opening to see what it's like and what places are difficult to travel with the chair. Our family likes to go to downtown events, but we have to avoid some of them."
“Sometimes, it’s okay, and I can get around if I have people to help me,” he said. “But sometimes it’s really hard. Like when I’m trying to see something that everyone else can see or if my wheelchair gets stuck.”
The City of Raleigh's response to sidewalk accessibility concerns has been to open a portal for residents to request sidewalk repairs. While the program works largely with residential areas, some downtown streets are included in the request plan. Residents ask for sidewalk construction or repair, and the city uses a formula to prioritize that repair, but there is no guarantee of the timeliness of the work.
For the Rhoades family, even attending family outings can be difficult. Pullen Park, a destination park in Raleigh that draws more than 1 million visitors per year, has added heavy-duty fencing around the park's water amenities.
"It is to keep people safe, but now I can't see anything," said Alex. "Plus, it's harder to get around the rest of the park sometimes."
The city's efforts to address this issue include the aforementioned Mayor's Committee, which meets monthly to discuss issues facing city residents with disabilities. The city employs a staff to address accessibility concerns and is working to make its public transportation system more accommodating.
As for Alex, he agrees that all is not bad. "People offer to help me, and I can still enjoy doing things with my family, even if it's a little harder sometimes."
I'm a recovering journalist now living a Renaissance life working as a writer & political strategist. I also am the mom to 2 children, one of whom has autonomic dysfunction & Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder, I write about politics and healthcare in North Carolina.