Differently-abled forum

by Louise H. McGregor, staff writer

There was an open invitation extended to all to attend the Public Forum on Accessibility for the Differently-abled on April 21 that was held at the Deer River High School in the commons room.

This forum, facilitated by Myrna Peterson and Lee Isaacs, was arranged to raise awareness of the problems that those in wheelchairs have in being as mobile as possible.

“Lee and I have experienced a lot of problems getting in and out of buildings,” said Peterson, “and even traveling on the sidewalks. Accessibility is an issue. We wanted to check with other people and see what problems they are having in getting around so we can take that to the leaders in Itasca County and see what can be done to correct this issue.”

Isaacs has found that it is a challenge to get around in Deer River. He said, “This street by the school that is newer is pretty good, but the rest of the streets are older and it is a bit more difficult. The ramps and cutaways are too steep, in the wrong spots and the sidewalks are pretty much off kilter. There aren’t very many of the town’s business entrances that I can get into, but even those that I can get into, I can’t get around once I am inside the business. The isles are too narrow.”

The first person asked to speak was Sandy Wheelecor, the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA) Transportation Manager for Itasca and Aitkin Counties. Peterson asked her to talk about the Arrowhead Bus services available for area residents.

She explained that the buses are equiped with lifts and there are different types of services with the main ones being the commuter routes, which are in service Monday through Friday and the Dial a Ride service that is only available in certain areas of Grand Rapids every day of the week.

“That is a demand curb-to-curb service,” said Wheelecor, “that will take riders anywhere they want to go when called.

“The commuter routes, like the one that comes to Deer River, picks up passengers along a specific route as scheduled, takes them to the sites selected in Grand Rapids and picks them up later in the day at a scheduled time and brings them back to Deer River.”

The buses can also be rented by the day, but as Wheelecor explained, whoever is wanting to do this must meet certain criteria.

“We do have special or shopping routes that go from Grand Rapids to Duluth twice a month,” said Wheelecor. “What people should do if they want to see if they can use the Arrowhead Bus service to get to and from a location is to call our dispatcher at 1-800-862-0175 Option 4. They know where the buses are and what options are available.”

Peterson found that all of this information was helpful in the collection of the list of things that need to be addressed in order to make accessibility less of a problem for those whose mobility is challenged.

“We had hoped that there would be someone from the city engineering and the county transportation department here,” said Peterson, “so more discussion on the elevation standards could be discussed.”

“Yes,” said Isaacs, “Right now there is a Minnesota building code that everything has to be in compliance with in the construction of things like entrances, doorways, sidewalks and ramps. What that comes down to is that they have made these guidelines to follow. It is compliant when things are built to the code, but it is not accessible for many of us.

“For instance take this school,” continued Isaacs, “with the new security system where a person needs to push the button to get into the school, after the picture of you at the doorway goes into the office. Some of us in wheelchairs are not able to reach the button and are below the camera range…..We want to make Itasca County the most accessible county in the state.”

Peterson next asked those in attendance if they learned anything new at the public forum or if they wanted to share anything with the others.

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