Public education and creative solutions should be a priority when addressing physical barriers.

by Andrew Hannah, 3 months ago

There seems to be nearly a complete lack of public awareness regarding accessible sidewalks in the residential areas all over Olympia. The problem seems to be particularly egregious in the residential areas adjacent to downtown, up both the west and east side hills and in southeast Olympia. some examples are homeowners planting gardens between the sidewalk and the road, by midsummer they block half of the already too narrow sidewalks. Property owners are routinely allowed to neglect maintenance of their bushes, shrubs and blackberry vines that obstruct sidewalks. It's nearly impossible to get anything done about it through the city. The issue becomes glaringly apparent after one of our irregular snowstorms. Small businesses and property owners pile the snow from clearing their driveways and parking lots on the sidewalks creating slow melting piles of snow and ice. Two years ago a week after several inches of snow had melted everywhere else there were still portions of the sidewalks that were impassable because of those piles. I had to call several businesses along the route my brother and I walk to get them cleared. He is almost completely blind and during our walks his guide dog gets a break since preform those duties. (texting while preforming guide dog duties is not recommended, or so I've heard.)

It has also been my experience that for reasons I can only assume are the result of fixed mindsets, lack of care, laziness, convenience or a complete lack of creativity many of our cities recreational sites have very limited accessible facilities or no accessible facilities at all. Every facility I have looked at that was well thought out and designed with accessibility in mind has been clean and easy to use, the people are friendly and generally courteous. In contrast the facilities that are not accessible have litter problems, are difficult for everyone to use and in general the people are cold and difficult to engage with. It's just my opinion but I believe the difference reflects weather the space makes us feel valued as members of the community or not. A good example is Watershed park. Much of the park is located on terrain that would make building accessible facilities difficult and costly. The city classifies it as not accessible because of this fact. You regularly see litter, people rarely say hello when they cross paths with fellow nature lovers. Many people do not feel comfortable or safe enough to use the park at all. With a little creativity a meaningful portion of that park could be opened to everyone while still avoiding many of the most costly modifications. The two largest hurdles are parking and limited vision. Parks should have adequate parking. This is not a disability issue, it's an everyone issue. The people who pay for public facilities should have the ability to access the facilities they pay for, it seems like a pretty basic principal. Watershed park does not have reasonable parking and that is simply incompatible with our ideals. Handicap parking would be part of an equitable solution. several entrances could be modified with switchbacks or slightly altered routes, opening sections of the park that already comply or come close to complying with guidelines, falling below the maximum allowable grade requirements. Providing an additional access point near the corner of Henderson rd and the frontage rd would allow access to a significant amount of the lower portions of the watershed trail system. It would require building a short trail to connect with existing ones and provide space for parking. There is no reason why all the residence of Olympia should not be able to enjoy a walk, stroll or roll through the woods at Watershed park. The terrain may limit accessibility in a portion of the park, however that doesn't mean we should write the entire facility off. There is value for all of us when we fix these issues. declaring that a facility is simply not accessible to people with disabilities is almost always the result of a very limited vision, a lack of creativity, poor levels of motivation or inadequate training.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Linkedin Email this link