Residents question leaders about Columbia's disability friendliness

Friday, May 7, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — At the first of four forums, Columbia residents with disabilities questioned Mayor Bob McDavid and City Manager Bill Watkins Thursday about the city’s accessibility and other issues.

Homer Page, chairman of the Disabilities Commission, monitored the event held in the new addition to City Hall. He welcomed guests and explained the goal of the forums is to allow residents to talk with city officials and establish productive dialogue.

A long-time member of the Boone Hospital Center Board of Trustees, McDavid conceded that while he doesn’t know the issues people with disabilities face “throughout the day,” he is aware of the bigger problems.

“I know that accessibility is a major issue,” McDavid said. “Hopefully, we’ve solved the discrimination issue. I don’t know that we have. I’m here to find out about that.”

Nearly 30 people attended the forum. The question-and-answer portion lasted nearly two hours and gave people the opportunity to ask about sidewalks, parks, emergency phone systems and more.

Gretchen Maune, who is blind, complained about the lack of “truncated domes” at all intersections. A “truncated dome,” also known as “tactile paving,” provides a textured surface that feels different underfoot.

“They are in some places downtown but not in key places downtown like Ninth Street and Broadway,” she said. That makes it difficult to distinguish when the sidewalk ends and the street begins. Maune also asked about the possibility of audible traffic signals at crosswalks.

Watkins said traffic engineer Richard Stone of the Public Works Department is evaluating requests for audible signals. Watkins urged everyone present to tell the city about areas that need audible signals or sidewalk repair, which many people present had already done.

“When I see something wrong, I call the city," William Turpin, a forum participant,  said. "I might as well work for them.”

Watkins acknowledged the city needs to do millions of dollars worth of work repairing and replacing sidewalks, but he said it lacks the money to fix everything. City staff tries to solve the worst problems first.

Another attendee asked about the possibility of special 911 services for people who are hearing impaired. Page said that the Disabilities Committee has spoken about that to Zim Schwartz, director of the Columbia-Boone County Joint Communications and Information Center, and that she is open to looking into the issue. This will be discussed again at a future forum.

The forum also gave an opportunity for Aimee Wehmeier, executive director of Services for Independent Living, to ask for the city’s support for Disability Pride Week, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The event will start with a July 24 parade.

After McDavid and Watkins left, participants talked with Parks and Recreations Director Mike Hood.

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John Schultz May 9, 2010 | 8:41 p.m.

I would be interested in hearing why the city used stimulus money to fix the sidewalks on Walnut, both east and west of College Avenue. I've walked on some of the previous sidewalk before they were replaced and didn't think they were in that bad of shape when compared to other sidewalks in the city. Did they assume it would serve a higher number of pedestrians than other locations?

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