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 Don't Forget About Those With Disabilities


January 1, 2016
The Clarion Ledger
Written by Jimmie E. Gates
 
 
It barely made news coverage Christmas Day when Timothy Ward was struck and killed by a motorist while riding in his wheelchair on a Jackson street.
 
The tragedy in this case is that the driver of the vehicle didn’t stop to provide assistance to Ward, 49. Jackson police had no suspects as of Wednesday in the hit-and-run death of Ward.
 
The tragedy is further compounded by Ward being disabled and having to drive his wheelchair in or near the street.
 
Ward’s funeral is Saturday at Greater Bethlehem Temple on Robinson Road.
Jackson disability rights advocate Scott Crawford, who also uses a wheelchair, said Ward is the fourth disabled person in a wheelchair to be killed in a traffic mishap since 2010.
 
Often, disabled people have to ride wheelchairs on Jackson streets because there are no sidewalks or the sidewalks are so deteriorated that they are inaccessible to wheelchairs, Crawford said.
 
Individuals like myself, without a physical limitation, sometime take traveling from one place to another for granted.
 
I interviewed Crawford on Friday, and he made a profound statement: “We tend to be blinded by our privileges.”
 
Crawford’s statement made me think about last week when I was driving near I-55 frontage road and Northside Drive in Jackson when I saw a man in a wheelchair near that busy intersection. Fearing for the man’s safety, I told my wife the man shouldn’t be out there in a wheelchair. That was my first reaction. I didn’t think that he may have had any  other option. What if he was trying to get to one of the nearby grocery stores or trying to get back home?
 
Like Crawford said, we can be blinded by privilege. It doesn’t hurt for us to do a little soul searching — look at things from someone else’s perspective.
 
I didn’t know Ward or where he was going in his wheelchair on Christmas Day.
 
Crawford went over to the area where Ward was killed near Prentiss and Grand avenues. He took pictures of the deteriorating sidewalks, showing that it would have been virtually impossible for a wheelchair to maneuver on the sidewalks.
 
None of us knows for sure whether better sidewalks could have prevented Ward’s death, but we do need to remember that those with disabilities are citizens, who deserve the same rights and services as any other citizen.
 
Crawford said some disabled people stay home all the time, leading to a diminished life, because of the difficulty of being able to maneuver around in the city.
Crawford has been advocating for Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant sidewalks in Jackson for a long time. He said state and federal grant money is available for sidewalks.
 
I hope Ward’s death will be a catalyst to begin the process of making our city ADA-compliant when it comes to pedestrian travel.
 
 
 
POSTED: 1/6/2016