Mayors Mark Kleinschmidt of Chapel Hill and Mark Chilton of Carrboro inched through their towns Tuesday, wary of the pavement in front of them as they wrestled against their walkers.
Carrboro resident Ellen Perry rolled ahead in her wheelchair, encouraging them to feel the bumps and cracks beneath their feet.
Perry, who has cerebral palsy and is the owner of Advocacy in Action, wanted to demonstrate the difficulties of maneuvering through Orange County as a disabled person and urge improvements.
So she invited town leaders to walk in her shoes.
“All of Franklin Street is filled with bumps that they don’t think about,” she said. “Those sidewalks are filled with trip hazards for people with disabilities and people who can’t pick up their feet.”
Emily Cameron, a landscape architect with the Orange County Public Works Department, joined the walk for a second time.
“We did this three years ago, and it’s good to go back and reassess these issues,” she said.
“We’re in preparation for the budget year, and we can look at where the money would come from and how that money could match with the council’s goals in addition to Ms. Perry’s goals.”
Cameron said the budget council has its own list of pending infrastructure projects and she would pass on Perry’s complaints to see how many are covered.
One such complaint includes the area near Carr Mill Mall. Perry challenged Chilton to open a door at the entrance while holding the walker.
“If I really needed this, it is a real challenge to open this door,” he said.
Perry suggested that the door be lightened to solve the problem.
She directed Chilton over cracks in the sidewalk, making a point to stop in front of Southern Rail restaurant, where the pavement is broken and uneven.
“The walker slows me down, and it hurts my hands, especially when I lean on it,” Chilton said.
Chilton handed off the walker to Kleinschmidt at the Carrboro-Chapel Hill line on South Merritt Mill Road.
Kleinschmidt said although he made this walk with Perry three years ago, he’s never done it with a wheeled walker underneath him.
A large tree root in front of Italian Pizzeria III posed a problem for Perry and Kleinschmidt.
“It’s making me aware of every spare foot in front of me,” Kleinschmidt said. “I never thought there were two sides to the sidewalk, but clearly, there are.”
Timothy Miles, chief operations officer for the Orange County Disability Awareness Council, said people’s attitudes also act as barriers against disabled persons.
“Restaurants don’t carry large-print or Braille menus, or servers tend to take the order of the person who is not disabled rather than the person who is,” he said.
Miles said the disability council offers awareness training to area businesses to help change this.
But Perry said a lot of infrastructure still needs improvement. She said she especially wants to see the towns even out the sidewalks.
“I’ve heard of people who trip and fall and break their arms and legs,” Perry said. “And I want to fix it.”
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