News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

March 17, 2014

Residents with disabilities face an uphill climb

Physical hurdles often slip by unnoticed, leaving narrow paths

TERRE HAUTE — Ramps that are too steep.

Retail stores with merchandise displays clogging the aisles.

Parking spots with hashmarks that create access points on only one side of the space.

Those are examples of accessibility issues that challenge physically handicapped people around the Wabash Valley.

The members of the Disabilities Awareness Working Group get together frequently to discuss issues that many people do not think about, such as the location of automatic door openers or local transportation issues.

There are some business owners who make a concerted effort to hire people with disabilities, and there are businesses who try to be accessible to people with disabilities.

For Brenda Tryon, accessibility is an ongoing issue because she has a son in a wheelchair, and his experiences getting around the city have revealed many difficulties.

Speakers at today’s 13th annual Terre Haute Human Rights Day will be examining issues that affect life in the Wabash Valley and the world at large during the all-day event at the Hulman Memorial Student Union at Indiana State University.

The rights of the disabled can sometimes be overlooked because the public may have been conditioned to think that the Americans with Disabilities Act has guaranteed that accommodations be built in to provide handicap access. But people often unwittingly put up barriers that challenge the mobility of those who use assistance devices to get around.

“The stores try to pack in so much stuff they don’t leave room for people to navigate,” said DAWG member MaryAnn Clark.

Joni Scioldo, executive director of Arc of Vigo County, said she has been noticing that some gas stations put out so many products, such as windshield wiper fluid, in racks on the sidewalks that people trying to approach the doors do not have the full width of the sidewalk to navigate.

Convincing businesses to make a change to accommodate the disabled is not always easy.

“I think the desire, care and concern is there, but there is that financial component that is there for the businesses trying to make those adjustments,” said Tryon, who is community relations manager at Mosaic, a agency that assists people with intellectual disabilities.

Those at the recent DAWG meeting agreed that it would be nice to have more public transportation available to assist those using wheelchairs. The current services are limited by hours available and distances that can be traveled.

“It hinders a lot of people from being able to work,” Tryon said of the transportation issue.

Recently in Indianapolis, Ms. Wheelchair USA Ashley Lundvall talked to Hoosier advocates and others about barriers faced by people with disabilities. A Hoosier native, Lundvall spoke during a civil rights symposium presented by the office of U.S. Attorney Joseph Hogsett.

“In the past, when I’ve run into a barrier, I just make it work,” Lundvall said. “But I found out that a lot of people can’t do that. I realized that just because I could make something work, I shouldn’t have to.”

A native of Brownsburg, Lundvall became disabled at age 16 from an accident while she was on a trip to a Wyoming ranch. At the time, she was a high school athlete who loved the outdoors and horseback riding. She was planning to be an orthopedic surgeon.

After the accident, she said, she lost friends who did not know how to deal with her situation. But she decided not to let her disability take away her dreams, and for a while, she continued on the path to medical school.

“Sometimes, it takes more courage to let go of old dreams when they don’t fit you anymore,” Lundvall said. She earned a degree in assisting people with disabilities.

On a return trip to Wyoming in 2005, she met her future husband, and in 2010, she gave birth to a daughter.

As an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities, Lundvall said she has learned to be educated and approach barriers with the right attitude so that positive change can be made to benefit others.

She said she never expected to be a pageant participant, but she has enjoyed presenting her platform of accessible outdoor recreation. She has worked on creating playgrounds with surfaces and equipment accessible to all people, and she is starting a Crown and Camo tour to promote disabled hunting.

“The outdoors doesn’t have to be a scary place, thanks to some good friends, strong friends, duct tape and some adaptive equipment,” Lundvall said.

The events of today’s Human Rights Day event are free and open to the public. For more information and a schedule of the events, go online to www.indstate.ed/hrd.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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