Published Fri, Feb 22, 2013 6:13 pm Dateline
A group of physically disabled Athens residents are campaigning to make the city more accommodating to their accessibility needs.
At a recent town hall meeting, several community members took to the stage to express their concerns, which included a lack of handicap accessible parking options, uneven sidewalks and not enough curb cuts.
Robin Brigante, who engaged in the discussion at the meeting, said life can be challenging when she struggles to find parking for her oversized van, which includes a ramp to accommodate her wheel chair.
"If a van accessible spot is gone and there's a car spot open, I can't go to that store and go shopping because I can't get my ramp down," said Brigante.
She said it's frustrations like that that led her to start a city-wide campaign to educate fellow Athens residents about the struggles people with disabilities encounter on a daily basis.
As a member of the city's commission on disabilities, she said she’s working to circulate these informational fliers to local businesses.
"We have designed a flier, an educational flier, in hopes that people will read them and not just get angry and throw them away," she said.
Brigante is not alone in her mission. Steve Patterson, a city council member who is also a member of that same commission, said he wants to use his influence in city government to change the way people think about this issue.
"Able-bodied individuals don't recognize those things, and it really takes the efforts of individuals identifying streets that need to be improved as well as sidewalks and curb cuts. We try to get them in the cue to be repaired over the next fiscal year," said Patterson.
Despite the efforts already underway, he said he knows the city can do more.
"We need to do a better job as citizens of Athens with identifying problem areas," said Patterson.
He said he is partnering with Ohio University leaders and area business owners to improve conditions for the disabled not only within the city's jurisdiction but across the board.
Brigante said she appreciates his efforts because she believes everyone knows someone impacted by a disability at some level.
"Chances are, if it's not from an injury or an illness, old age is going to set in and eventually you're going to wind up probably in a wheelchair or a walker," said Brigante.
Patterson said he can't set any kind of concrete timeline for when improvements to the city could be finished, but he said he plans to work tirelessly to make the hopes of Athens residents like Brigante become a reality.