News, Views, and Information about Disability

Disability News, Views, Information, and Literature

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Four Articles on Barriers to Navigating Portland for Disabled Mainers

On April 13, the Portland Press Herald ran "Living with disabilities in Portland, Maine, where every step's a challenge," on the physical and attitudinal barriers that face people with diverse disabilities in Portland, or in Maine, generally. The story, which ran in print and as well as video, follows three Mainers with disabilities and the challenges they face when navigating around the New England city.

The Portland Press Herald also wrote profile pieces on each of the three Mainers interviewed for the larger story of being disabled in Portland -- a blind college student, an activist who has MS, and an office worker with Down syndrome. Each of these companion pieces are also well worth the read.

Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, a student at the University of Southern Maine, is subject of the first companion piece, "Losing his vision, USM student calls for 'common-sense accommodations and adaptations'":
Almost every day, Hedtler-Gaudette walks nearly a mile to the USM campus, a route he knows well. Along the way, he finds the best and the worst about life in the city.... 
Each strike with the cane is a chance for Hedtler-Gaudette to feel the terrain ahead of him, to detect where he is in relation to the sidewalk’s edge, and most importantly, to avoid obstacles and dangers. 
“The constant imposition of bricks and cobblestone is like the bane of my existence when it comes to my cane,” he said. 
At the corner of Park and Deering avenues, Hedtler-Gaudette presses a button to cross. “Wait,” a computerized voice intones. The traffic light changes, and a new, chirping tone guides him across the busy intersection. There are far too few of these audio crossing aids in the city, he said.... 
As a home for a blind person, Portland has its strengths and weaknesses, he said. Because of its compact size, the city is largely accessible on foot. Hedtler-Gaudette walks everywhere he can, including to the school’s gym, where he works out almost daily.... 
But there are still impediments that remain out of his control. Snow and ice are constant risks. 
Even more basic, and unfortunately unchangeable, is the configuration and naming of city streets. In cities such as New York or Philadelphia, blocks are arranged on a grid and adhere to predictable numbering systems. 
No so in Portland and Boston, Hedtler-Gaudette said. “As charming and quaint as the old Colonial-era port cities are, they make no sense in terms of their layout,” he said.
 Read the rest of the story about Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette.

The second article profile piece, "For wheelchair users, navigating Portland's streets requires patience," features activist and powerchair user, Reneee Berry-Huffman. The article focuses mostly on the frustrations and uncertainties of transportation for people with mobility impairments in Portland, especially its paratransit and Mainecare ride system:
Berry-Huffman, a human rights activist, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 18 years ago and has been using a power wheelchair since 2009. She is now active with the Portland Disability Advisory Committee and encourages others with disabilities to advocate for themselves. 
While she waited for the Regional Transportation Program bus to pick her up, she called a committee member to ask him to get the meeting started without her.... 
She was a half-hour late to the meeting, getting to the table just in time to join a conversation with city employees about public transportation, a common source of frustration for many people with disabilities in Portland. The Metro buses can be unreliable and riders with disabilities say they often encounter people who taunt them. 
After the meeting, Renee Berry-Huffman sat in the sun outside of Portland City Hall.... Just a few blocks away, the city’s Old Port is more or less inaccessible to her, she said. The cobblestones are a nightmare for her wheelchair and many businesses are hard, or impossible, to get into. 
The bus was supposed to pick her up at 12:15 p.m.... She now has five minutes to get home to meet her next ride, an ambulance paid for by MaineCare that will bring her back into Portland for a doctor’s appointment at 1 p.m. The MaineCare ride is only authorized to pick her up at home, even though her meeting was only a few blocks from the medical building.... 
By the time Berry-Huffman gets back into Portland, out of the ambulance, over a bumpy sidewalk and into the lobby, she’s 40 minutes late for her medical appointment and is told she has to reschedule.... This would have been Berry-Huffman’s first visit with a new doctor after being dropped as a patient by a previous provider because of late rides and missed appointments.
 Read the article featuring Renee Berry-Huffman.

The third profile, "Woman with Down syndrome faces hostility on Portland streets," features Christina Mailhot, an office worker in an architecture firm, who often stays home to avoid cruel comments from strangers:
“I wish people would just leave me alone.” 
Sometimes they ask for money. Other times they follow her, she said. Often, walking around Portland, she hears the same thing she has since elementary school. 
“People start calling me names, like ‘retard,’” she said. 
Mailhot, 35, has Down syndrome. She also has two part-time jobs and a one-bedroom downtown apartment. But, despite her independence, she feels trapped. 
“You can’t go out of your own apartment without getting teased,” she said. 
Mailhot spends most of her free time inside, reading gossip magazines and watching videos on YouTube. Sometimes, she thinks about moving back home to Lewiston with her mother, but she knows it isn’t worth it. 
“I worked so hard to get here,” she said. “I don’t want to go back.” 
Read the profile of Christina Mailhot.

Each of the three profiles also include photo galleries of each of the people who were interviewed. Please tweet or email the paper to let them know what you think of on people with disabilities in Maine!

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