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Pathways gives awards to mark signing of ADA

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Pathways for the Future Center for Independent Living and the Jackson County Department on Aging held the 1st Annual Mountain Community Access Awards Presentation Friday, July 21.

The awards presentation commemorated the 16th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.

“Great changes have come as a result of the signing of the ADA,” said Bart Floyd, site coordinator for the Western Alliance Center for Independent Living in Asheville.

The law ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation, and required the establishment of telecommunications devices for the deaf/telephone relay services.

However, what a law puts forth, society often takes away. Fear or lack of understanding may cause the public to discriminate against people with disabilities. Floyd, who himself has a disability, said he often receives the question, “What do we you call you?”

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“Call me Bart, that’s my name,” Floyd quipped.

Much more needs to be done to provide equal opportunity for those with disabilities, said Sylva Mayor Brenda Oliver.

“I feel embarrassed because it took a congressional law to make us do what we should have been doing a long time ago,” Oliver said, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Oliver said that she was once asked to participate in a “wheelchair rodeo” in which she was given four tasks to complete in a wheelchair — go to the post office, go to a restaurant, use the restaurant restroom and go to the bank.

On the way to the post office, which in Sylva is located on a steep, well-traveled hill, Oliver quickly learned what she was up against.

“I got almost half way up there and I could go no further,” she said.

She gave up and went to a restaurant, which was easy enough, until she tried to go to the bathroom. She couldn’t get far enough into the stall to be able to lift herself onto the toilet.

“I was feeling like I was a severe failure at that point,” she said.

Finally, upon trying to go to the bank she was confronted with one last insurmountable problem — stairs.

Oliver said the town is working to become a more accessible. Sidewalks have been studied to see which ones need improvement, and the town’s watershed, home to Pinnacle Park, is targeted for increased accessibility.

There are many in the Western North Carolina community who are already working to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Individuals, businesses and organizations in Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Graham, Cherokee and Clay counties whose awareness and actions have created community accessibility and inclusion for people with and without disabilities were honored at the 1st Annual Mountain Community Access Awards.

Awards were presented in the following categories: removing architectural barriers, removing communication or sensory barriers, removing attitudinal barriers, implementing assistive technology, and creating universal access.

Award winners were Pat Beasley, who has played a key role in revitalizing the Special Olympics in Jackson County and has advocated the Jackson County Recreation Department to install more accessible equipment; the Jackson County Project CARE (Community Action to Reach the Elderly) Program, which serves seniors and persons with disabilities needing home repairs and access modifications; Jackson County Project Fire Program, which uses volunteers to split and deliver donated firewood to the elderly and persons with disabilities; Jackson County Schools, which was recognized for making extra efforts to encourage accessibility; Charlie McConnell, who has volunteered with Project CARE; Richard Smith, former director of Project CARE and a leader of volunteer efforts throughout the county; Wayne Smith, who has worked with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and U.S. Forest Service to provide accessible outdoor recreation for persons with disabilities; Gary Caldwell, a volunteer with Mountain Abilities Day and organizer of the Smoky Mountain Nine Ball Shootout; Ron Phillips, who has assisted in identifying where curb cuts and wider doors are needed; and Rita Phillips, an advocate, fundraiser and volunteer with Mountain Abilities Day.

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