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Difficult travels for Bend disabled

Jun 3, 2013


By HILLARY BORRUD
Of The Bulletin

BEND — A short commute is one of the benefits of living and working in a small town like Bend.

That is, unless you're Jordan Ohlde or anyone else who uses a wheelchair to get to work and other activities.

Ohlde's Saturday shift at Regal Cinemas in the Old Mill District starts at noon. The 28-year-old leaves his house near Pilot Butte at 10:30 a.m. and rides in his power wheelchair about a dozen blocks to Hawthorne Station to catch an 11:20 a.m. bus to the Old Mill District.

Later in the day, it's even more complicated. Bus service ends at 5 p.m., while Ohlde is still working.

“My mom has to come pick me up at the movie theater,” said Ohlde, who has cerebral palsy. This, along with the flexibility of managers who know Ohlde takes the bus and might sometimes arrive late, makes it possible for him to work at the movie theater.

Ohlde and others who are disabled or have disabled family members in Bend said they spend a lot of time figuring out how to get from one point to another. They also face dangers from poorly planned and broken infrastructure, such as sidewalks without curb ramps and sidewalks that end abruptly, forcing people to ride in the street alongside cars.

The city of Bend must bring all of its streets and sidewalks built or altered after January 1992 into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act by September 2014, under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

“You have to put your life in your hands and ride in the bike lane,” Ohlde said.

Ohlde, an advocate for disability rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, serves on a regional transit committee and is president of High Desert Advocates, a group for disabled adults. Ohlde said the city should not be so behind on work it promised to do under the DOJ settlement .

“I think it's gotten a little better over time, but I think they could do a lot better,” Ohlde said. “That's what gets me upset. They knew they had to get this done, and they're just not doing it.”

Sean Ferrell, 44, said his family has also discovered that infrastructure mandated by the ADA for two decades is nonetheless missing from government facilities. Sean and Anne Ferrell's 8-year-old daughter Eva has severe cerebral palsy that limits the use of her arms and legs. They also have a 6-year-old daughter, Sage.

“This is a population told ‘no’ even when the law is on their side,” Ferrell said. “I feel like I spend so much time with her as an advocate and a manager. I just want to be a dad.”

Ferrell said he is grateful to the people who filed the complaint that led to Bend's ADA compliance work, which has already made the city a better place for people with disabilities to live. “We moved to Bend for the infrastructure” and programs available for Eva, said Ferrell, who works for the U.S. Forest Service. The family previously lived in New Mexico.

Ferrell knows from experience many people do not notice the barriers to people with disabilities. Before Eva was born, Ferrell was a fish biologist for the Forest Service. While working on a campground project, a co-worker suggested the agency make every campsite accessible to people with disabilities, “and I stood there like ‘What are you talking about?’” Ferrell said. He did not understand how much of the world was inaccessible to people with disabilities.

Ferrell said these roadblocks are not yet so obvious with Eva because at 36 pounds, she's still small enough that her parents can pick her up and carry her. Still, some of the barriers to independence are becoming more apparent. When Eva was in kindergarten, class photos took place on a stage in the gym at Buckingham Elementary. Eva communicates ‘yes’ and ‘no’ by moving her head, but she is still nonverbal.

So it was a big deal that Eva selected her outfit and was excited for the class photo.

She went to the gym with the other kids, but there was no ramp to the stage and Eva did not get her photo taken. There is also no path for Eva to get to the playground, so she misses recess with her friends, Ferrell said.

The $96 million Bend -La Pine Schools bond that voters approved in May will pay for the district to fix some of its facilities that violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“By the time that happens, my daughter will have graduated from elementary school and never had a chance to play with her friends,” Ferrell said.

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Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com

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