Wheelchair Users Demonstrate Problems With Park Bathrooms

Wheelchair Users Demonstrate Problems With Park Bathrooms

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Using the bathrooms at Thompson Park can be a struggle for someone who has a disability, like Olando Lawson, who is paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair.

He took us for a demonstration.  To get to the men's room from the pavilion or the zoo, he has to trek to and then up a steep slope.

"It's like a 7 out of 10 tough," he said.

And then when he finally reaches the bathroom, he says, "It's tight. I can't even turn my wheelchair around to get into the bathroom stall. Since the door opens this way, it's just going to block me from getting in."

When he does work out how to get into the stall in the bathroom, it's too small for a wheelchair and he can't shut the door.

We also checked out the ladies room, which had much more room.

"Yeah, definitely usable," he said.

But still getting there is the problem as it's further away. Lawson says he'd like to see change.

"It's 2019. We should make it all accessible for everybody," he said. "It's something that's preventing me from coming here with my family."

Lawson works at the Northern Regional Center for Independent Living or NRCIL along with Chanelle Ballam.

Accessibility to the bathrooms at Thompson Park is something the organization hears complaints about all the time and advocates for change. In fact, it's even written into Ballam's job description to get more accessible bathrooms at Thompson Park. 

They say accessibility is especially important given the city's proximity to Fort Drum and its population of wounded warriors.

Ballam says she understands the park has challenges, but she hopes the city will build bathrooms at a lower location that is easier for people to get to.

"I know that money is an issue, the city has to find the money to do it. However, it's one of those things we really need to be worked out because it's necessary and it hinders a lot of people," said Ballam.

City Engineer Justin Woods says getting more convenient and accessible bathrooms in the park is a priority. It's something the city and the Friends of Thompson Park are working on in a 5 year plan.

The complaints aren't limited to Thompson Park;  people with disabilities say there are also challenges with using the new city buses.

"Once you get two wheelchairs in there, nobody else can get on the bus," said Diana Burden, city resident.

Burden and Denise Fawdrey use the city buses to get around. They say space on the smaller bus is one issue. They've been asked not to bring on their backpacks or shopping bags because of it and on the larger bus they've run into safety problems. 

Thursday, Mayor Joe Butler went for a bus ride with the women to experience first hand their concerns. 

"We'll see if anything can be done, if there is an issue. But again they are built under federal guidelines," he said.

Getting the chance to show the need for change. 

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