Opinion: Let’s make a sidewalk plan happen

By Jane Dunhamn

Fayetteville Observer, Posted May 14, 2020 at 3:02 PM

Recently I viewed the Fayetteville City Council meeting of April 20. I am greatly concerned about the issue of public safety for the implementation of sidewalks for the city of Fayetteville.

On several occasions Councilwoman Tisha Waddell expressed the importance of sidewalks and the need to explore funding opportunities aside from bonds.

I agree with Councilwoman Waddell, and I move a step further in that the language should be for disabled people it is imperative that the city have a plan and a timeline to complete sidewalks for all streets.

Disabled people’s lives are at risk whenever they take to the streets. It is important to note that most disabled people do not have the choice to drive a car and walking is their only option.

This is especially true for people who use mobility equipment and people who are blind. According to a study by Georgetown University “about 528 wheelchair users were killed in road traffic collisions between 2006 and 2012. This equates to a pedestrian wheelchair user’s risk of death being about 36% higher than the rest of the population.” Understanding people who use mobility equipment cannot squeeze over when a vehicle comes too close because the equipment takes up a large space. This is very different for those who walk who can squeeze to the side of the road when an oncoming vehicle comes too close.

For people who are blind and visually impaired, it is obvious that they cannot see any potential dangers coming at them.

The social model of disability identifies systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society, which means society is the main contributory factor in disabling people. While physical, sensory, intellectual or psychological variations may cause individual functional limitation or impairments, these do not have to lead to disability unless society fails to take account of and include people regardless of their individual differences.

Georgetown University findings concluded: “underscore the need for policy-makers and planners to fully incorporate disability accommodations into pedestrian infrastructure and for persons who use wheelchairs – and others with disabilities – to remain a salient population when road safety interventions are designed.”

The view of most at the City Council meeting was to wait. We cannot wait any longer, not one day. It is time the city has a plan and commitment to implement sidewalks in all of Fayetteville. “Wanting” to make it happen is very different from a proactive commitment. Let’s be creative and “make” a plan happen.

Jane Dunhamn is a Fayetteville resident and a parent of an adult daughter with significant impairments. She is also the director of the National Black Disability Coalition. She has worked in a professional capacity in disability related fields for federal, state and local government for 30 years.