T.O. group tests access for disabled
THOUSAND OAKS - Susan Morich maneuvered her black-and-navy wheelchair until the large back wheels aligned with an 8-inch street curb; she then hesitantly backed over the drop.
With a little assistance from a spotter, Morich safely negotiated her chair from sidewalk to street.
"I have a lot more empathy for our patients after this," said Morich, an administrator at Hillcrest Inn retirement center. "This is unreal. Most of us are in top physical condition...imagine having a disability and trying to do this. It's harder than walking. A block is all I can do."
Morich joined a group of four other able-bodied individuals and two disabled people who worked up a sweat and a healthy respect Tuesday morning for the hardships of traveling a few blocks in wheel chairs. The group, organized by Thousand Oaks businessman Lance Winslow, tested the accessibility of several businesses along Thousand Oaks Boulevard.
"The whole idea is awareness. I think it's going to wake a lot of people up," Winslow said. "This is something we're all going to face, a time when our motor skills are gone. You have a totally different perspective when you're in a wheelchair."
Among obstacles encountered by the caravan in a 45-minute trip down Thousand Oaks Boulevard from Rancho Road were businesses with doors that open out, a stretch of unpaved curb where the sidewalk is discontinued for several hundred feet, a crosswalk button that is difficult to reach, a row of tires on sale placed in front of the access ramp into a tire store's offices and several uncut curbs.
A member of the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Committee, Winslow said businesses that fail to meet the standards set by the Americans With Disabilities Act neglect an important market segment.
For example, Pat Spencer of Camarillo and Buzz Holzer of Thousand Oaks, said they changed their shopping patterns because several businesses are inaccessible to them. Both say they can walk a few feet unassisted but depend on mechanical assistance as their most common transportation.
"I changed a lot of the store that I went to," said Spencer whose arthritis makes walking difficult. "If there is the slightest slope at the front of a store, then you can't pull the door open because you roll."
Holzer, who uses a motorized cart, said a lack of curb cuts throughout Thousand Oaks forces him to take to the streets to get from place to place.
"I have an advantage over people in wheel chairs because I can move along a little faster," he said.
Marshall Dixon, who along with Winslow is running for a seat on the Thousand Oaks City Council, said he frequently hears complaints from disabled residents about the scarcity of curb cuts.
Reprinted from the Conejo Daily News, August 3, 1994.