A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Path to wider accessibility includes both a process … and a playground


“Once you complete the survey, you’ll never look at a building the same way again,” Carrissa Johnson says.

She is referring to Accessible Murray, a campaign that raises awareness of accessibility issues, and helps organizations identify whether their facilities are disability friendly.

As an Independent Living Specialist for Murray’s Center for Accessible Living (CAL) — and a person who uses a wheelchair for mobility — Carrissa has a keen eye for potential obstacles.

Gesturing to the mat inside the entry of Murray’s CAL, Carrissa explains that wheelchairs are not always able to make it over door mats that are just a bit too thick. The untrained or unaware might not realize the difference an inch or two can make to a person in a wheelchair, but barriers like that are easy to fix.

Others, not so much.

Because of Carrissa’s coaching, I can no longer pull into a parking lot without observing how accessible (or not) parking really is. In some cases, the proper symbol is painted on the pavement, but there are no striped access aisles that allow wheelchair users to get out of, or back into, their vehicles.

Sometimes the accessible parking spaces are fine, but the curb is a insurmountable. Without a cut or ramp between parking and the entry, a wheelchair might not be able to negotiate a couple of perilous inches.

One of the most worst barriers is illegal parking in spots designated for use by individuals with disabilities. A CAL pamphlet says it all: “Parking here for “Just a Minute” is 60 seconds too long!”

The explanatory text goes on to say, “NEVER park in a space that is reserved for individuals with disabilities UNLESS you have a permit, placard, or designated parking plates. It is the courteous things to do – and it’s the law.”

Despite her passionate commitment to ADA compliance, Carrissa Johnson does not speak in CAPS. Her approach to educating the public and creating awareness is firm, but low key.

The Accessible Murray campaign is a good example. Based on taking a positive approach toward organizations’ compliance with provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the program invites local organizations to participate in a two-tiered recognition system that designates a facility or place of public accommodation as complying with ADA or exceeding the requirements of the law.

The process begins with a simple survey that takes a few minutes to complete. Businesses that comply will receive a sticker or sign saying “We welcome people with disabilities.”

To be recognized as exceeding the basic requirements of the ADA in promoting accessibility, businesses may be nominated or self-nominate to volunteer for further compliance review.

According to the CAL website, “Examples of excellence include actively seeking out and hiring people with disabilities, serving on the panel of Accessible Murray, exceeding basic ADA requirements (such as installing a button for an automatic door or making bathroom doors easier to open, close, and lock from chair height), conducting their own events for outreach or educational purposes, or providing ADA training for their employees. The stickers that correlate with this tier say ‘We are disability friendly partners with Accessible Murray.’”

Currently, the Center for Accessible Living is working on the Park Project, which aims to create a disability-friendly addition to Murray’s Central Park. The plan provides for purchase of accessible playground equipment and picnic tables, and the construction of ramps and pathways.

When the plan is implemented, there will be swings that can be used by individuals in wheelchairs. The concrete sidewalk will be extended, and there will be panels with built-in tactile elements rich in providing sensory experiences. The current playground will be connected to the ADA playground so parents can watch children play at both.

“We’ve had several parents say they won’t take their children to the park because one child can’t play,” Carrissa Johnson remarked, adding that the accessible playground will help all families. “Everybody can play.,” she said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

The goal for the Park Project is to raise $15,000.00 by the end of May, and Mrs. Johnson declared, “We’re half-way there.”

For more information, log on to http://www.calky.org/accessible-murray/.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at Calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit her website.

Read all posts by Constance Alexander on KyForward


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