LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - A Lawton board aimed at making Lawton more accessible for the physically disabled is striving to build more sidewalks in town. Those sidewalks can make a world of difference for people in wheelchairs.
When getting just about anywhere, most of us don't think about how we are going to get there. We just get in the car and go. But for people with physical disabilities, it's not that easy. If they don't have access to a car, getting to where they want to go can be extremely difficult.
"You get in the car and go to the store and you don't think about somebody having to travel in a wheelchair or even a walker or whatever," said Joseph Harper, Lawton Access Board member.
If you drive down Sheridan you've probably seen Joseph Harper running errands. Risking his life just to get to the grocery store.
"The biggest majority of people don't think about us you know because they're not in that position," said Harper.
Harper is one of the four members of the Lawton Access Board, and is fighting for the city to be more accessible.
One of the ways to make it easier for people like Harper is sidewalks.
"You know it's one of those progresses that's going to take many years," said Harper. "I mean, this town has very little sidewalks. And the ones they do have are mostly not compliant."
On his trip to Dollar Tree, he makes his way across the street to the LATS bus stop. The bus stop's platform is the Lawton Access Board's first accomplishment. The board worked with Lawton Area Transit System in getting it installed last summer.
"They just put these two bus stops in," said Harper as he waited for the bus. "They didn't used to be here."
There are sidewalks along many of the road in Lawton that for someone who can walk is easy to navigate. But for someone in a wheelchair, they look at things differently. They see every bump, crack, and broken piece of concrete. They see curbs that prevent them from getting on that path.
Ultimately, leaving them in the streets.
"They are not even wide enough or they're crooked or they are broken up or they're slanted wrong," said Harper. "You know if you get a wheelchair that slants just a little bit too much you could flip over sideways real easy."
To get home, Harper has to be creative.
"Well yeah, I had to learn, you know, I studied a map and I tried to learn the back streets and ways that I could possibly connect without getting on the main drag," said Harper.
Taking as many back streets as he can in the end he is forced to make his way home in the street on busy Sheridan Road.
"It makes me very uneasy," said Mike Jones, Lawton ADA Coordinator. "I don't like to see it."
Jones says he gets a call a week about accessibility in the city. Half of those calls are about sidewalks or ramps.
"It's something that we want to correct," said Jones.
Jones, who is also the chairman of the Lawton Access Board, said they have identified 15 heavy traffic areas that need sidewalks. Jones said there are dozens more they could add to that list.
"We're putting a puzzle together," said Jones. "It's going to take a long time before the puzzle's completed. But if we put in obvious pieces like new sidewalks along the roads. And we put in less obvious pieces like a sidewalk where there didn't use to be one, or we put in a curb ramp that lets people off the street on to that sidewalk when there wasn't a ramp before then we are making constant measurable progress, and that's what we're after."
Some of those pieces of the sidewalk puzzle have already been completed or in the process of being installed. Like on Northwest 35th street, or on a part of Northwest 38th street. Those sidewalks wouldn't be possible without a city resolution passed in 2011, requiring new street construction to have an accompanying sidewalk.
Building a sidewalk isn't a fast process. There are weeks and months of planning just making sure the sidewalk is safe, away from water lines and not running over anyone's property. Jones says at $55 per square yard of sidewalk or more there is another factor that slows them down.
"Funding," said Jones. "You know money is always going to be an issue determining what gets done and when."
In the meantime, Harper continues down a dangerous street, and continues his fight.
"So, it's going to take a while," said Harper. "And I probably won't see it at my age. I'm almost 77 years old so it's not going to be in my lifetime but maybe it'll make it better for somebody else. And that's what I'm striving for."
The Lawton Access Board and ADA Coordinator are here to give people with disabilities a voice in the city.