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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

A Pilot Special Report: Breaking Barriers

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Ryan Rehder, Storm Lake, was recently appointed to Gov. Terry Branstad's Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council. During his three-year term, Rehder says he wants to see more accessible doors, buildings and ramps added in northwest Iowa.
As the U.S. considers joining the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which aims to reduce physical and social obstacles worldwide, local leaders are taking a look at accessibility obstacles in Storm Lake.

According to Sandy Pingel, Genesis Development Storm Lake Site Director, downtown businesses and other public places provide accommodation to area individuals with mobility challenges.

"They do a relatively good job, but there are just a couple of businesses who have not met standards for someone using a wheelchair," she explained. "But I think that they are trying."

Small businesses following the Americans with Disabilities guide remove architectural barriers, such as narrow parking spots, inaccessible door handles, fixed table seating, high counters or steps, while providing entrances and aisles that are wide enough for wheelchairs or other mobility aids.

But as a pedestrian facing mobility challenges, getting to the business may prove difficult. In a commitment to enhancing pedestrian travel, the City of Storm Lake sets aside funds yearly to enhance sidewalk ramp accessibility.

Most recently, the 5th Street project has been slightly delayed, giving engineers more time to review new ADA rules for sidewalks.

"We've done quite a bit of work, but we've got a lot more to do," said City Manager Jim Patrick, noting city staff is currently reviewing policies and additional DOT information.

Clients served by Genesis Storm Lake have pinpointed several locations that prove difficult year round.

"We have a gentleman who had a hand-operated wheelchair who got hung up on a pedestrian crossing on the railroad tracks," she explained. "He got stuck, and someone had to push him off, which was a fearful experience for him."

With railroad tracks crisscrossing much of central Storm Lake, travel by wheelchair can be hampered.

In the winter, clear sidewalks and street crossings are key.

"It's not just people with chairs," Pingel said. "Our population is rather fragile, and balance presents a concern, so they might fall more easily."

Two clients who are wheelchair-bound explained that they struggle particularly with downtown curbs with holes, downtown parking, heavy doors without automatic-open capability and narrow entrances.

As a new member of Gov. Terry Branstad's Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, Ryan Rehder, Storm Lake, is hoping to make a difference for others like him in northwest Iowa as he serves a three-year term.

"The DD Council is important because they can effect positive change for people with disabilities. I would like to see more accessible doors, buildings and ramps for people with disabilities in central Iowa," Rehder said.

The Council is a federally-funded state agency that advocates for the development of services and supports so Iowans with developmental disabilities can make choices and take control of their lives. Members promote development of a coordinated system or services and support that provides opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to be independent, productive, integrated and included in their communities.

With his fellow council members, Rehder will have the opportunity to participate in forms, on committees, in work groups, develop written materials and responses, meet with legislators and collaborate with other organizations to create positive results for other Iowans with disabilities.

Council Chair Andy Kaiser, LeClaire, said Rehder's real-world experiences will help the group work towards its goal of improving lives of Iowans with disabilities.

"Ryan brings another set of fresh ideas to the Council, and his input is greatly appreciated," Kaiser said.

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