COLUMBIA — Improved accessibility and interaction with police are two of several concerns community members with disabilities want their next mayor to address.
At a forum Wednesday, they got a chance to ask their questions of three mayoral candidates: Sid Sullivan, Jerry Wade and Bob McDavid. Paul Love answered their first question but had to leave early; he left typed answers to other questions at the door. Candidates Sal Nuccio and Sean O'Day did not attend.
The forum was sponsored by:
The Disabilities Coalition solicited questions from members of the disabilities community. They selected questions that addressed the issues that came up most frequently.
Aimee Wehmeier, executive director of the Services of Independent Living, and Max Lewis, president of the board of directors for Services of Independent Living, were the moderators of this event.
The candidates were in agreement on most issues, with a few minor differences and additions to others' responses.
Attendees asked the candidates if they would support increased funding for transportation services for those with disabilities as Columbia grows.
Both Wade and McDavid said the city's budget was tight and sacrifices had to be made. Sullivan agreed, but added that he advocated for a land use plan to guide Columbia's growth.
"A land use plan is needed first and then a transportation plan," Sullivan said. "We need to look at the way we're growing, and we need to know where you live and shop so we can have bus routes to accommodate you."
Candidates were also asked what they would do to ensure city officials, including law enforcement, are sensitive to those with disabilities.
"This is a huge concern for Columbia," Bob McDavid said. "I think the average police officer may not interact with people with disabilities. They undergo a sensitivity training, but what I think would be best is direct interaction. If the police participated with you directly, they may be able to more easily recognize a disability."
Wade said police needed better training be able to identify and address the needs of a person with disabilities. Sullivan said the City Council needs to create a "policy of guidance" and a way to ensure police adhere to the policy.
All the candidates frequently mentioned that lines of communication between the those with disabilities and the council need to remain open and the council needs to look for new means of raising revenue so funding for social services won't be cut.
"I promise you, people with disabilities will have a seat at the table, but you will have to let us know what issues you face so that we can work with you to fix them," Wade said.
DeAnna Noriega, legislative liaison for the Services for Independent Living, said people with disabilities are underrepresented. Noreiga helped coordinate the forum, which approximately 30 people attended.
"Democracy only works if you have a committed, well-informed public," Noriega said. "This forum gives a face and a voice to the people with disabilities in this community. It gives them an opportunity to listen to the candidates and make our voices heard and that is our obligation."