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Despite high national ranking, accessibility issues remain for community members with disabilities

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Above image credit: Consumer finance website Wallet Hub ranked Overland Park, Kansas the most disability-friendly city in the U.S.

Overland Park was ranked as one of the most disability-friendly cities in the U.S. last month. Tell KC asked people with special-needs from around KC if this rating reflects their experience.

Kansas City, Missouri, was ranked 51st out the 150 cities.

Questioning OP’s ranking

“I can’t believe OP was voted the highest. Their paratransit program does not serve the disabled community well at all and, let’s face it, transportation is the key to independence,” said Susie Haake, who uses a power wheelchair due to polio and post-polio syndrome.

Kevin Siek, whose wife has Multiple Sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, echoed Haake’s sentiments about transportation issues.

“Much of the built environment in the newer southern part of Overland Park is very accessible, however, there are still problems such as streets too wide for people with mobility impairments to cross independently,” Siek wrote. “The Metro area is a mixed bag as far as accessibility. One huge problem is that the fragmented public transit system in the KC Metro sucks!”

Shelly Shetley said that, as an adult with a disability, she has found Overland Park to be a more accessible community.

“In my experience, Overland Park is a lot more progressive as far as accessibility goes. Overland Park has more curb cuts that are easily seen by people who use wheelchairs,” Shetley wrote in a response to Tell KC. “I have found there to be more accessible parking spaces. The doctor’s offices and hospitals that I have visited in Overland Park seem to be more accommodating to and for people with disabilities.”

Both sides of the state line have issues

Living in Missouri, Pam Hilder-Johnson is a wheelchair user and said that she wasn’t surprised by Kansas City, Missouri’s, ranking.

“Handicap accessibility is very challenging in downtown KCMO, especially the older structures that have stairs or front stoops. You need either a lift or a ramp to gain entrance,”  Hilder-Johnson wrote. “There are a lot of places to go for food, art and meetings, but, if you don’t have someone with you or assistance from who transports you, you’re in a pickle once you arrive.”

Debbie Niemann lives on the Kansas side of the state line and said while there are great education and health services for her ten-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair, overall accessibility in the region is a major issue.

“The entire metro could do better on better inclusive playgrounds by getting rid of the chips and putting in at least one adapted swing,” Niemann wrote. “There are a few all-inclusive playgrounds throughout the metro.”

Niemann added that she would like for all city board members to spend 24 hours in a wheelchair while doing their normal errands, as well as visit the major sites around town.

“I think they would be shocked how inaccessible so many things are despite meeting ADA requirements,” Niemann wrote.

Accessibility is political

Although the initial query didn’t ask people specifically about disabilities and politics, many respondents talked about their advocacy, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed in 1990.

“Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the ADA. I think it would be an opportune time for the metro to make a commitment to become fully accessible for all people,” Siek wrote.

“Justin Dart, the Father of the ADA, once said that folks with disabilities should ‘get involved in politics like your life depends on it, because it does!’,” Siek continued. “We have taken that statement to heart and encourage our brothers and sisters with disabilities to do likewise.”

Sharon Joseph, who uses a wheelchair and lived in Overland Park for nearly 50 years, agreed with Siek.

“Our votes  and spending abilities count equally, yet our equal access to the full American dream of life, liberty, and the true pursuit of happiness is still seriously lacking,” Joseph wrote.

For Joseph Matovu, who has used a wheelchair and been an advocate for people with disabilities since 1975, said accessibility is only the first step.

“People should know that it is not enough to take care of physical accessibilities without changing the attitudes,” Matovu wrote. “How the nondisabled community view people with disabilities matters a lot. People with disabilities need to be treated like anyone else.”

Written submissions have been lightly edited for clarity.

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