The city of Athens hosted its fifth annual Walk, Talk and Roll event on June 9 to highlight the importance of accessibility in the city. Davey McNelly, chair of the Athens City Commission on Disabilities’ Accessibility and Advocacy Committee, led participants to various Uptown locations to discuss how the city can be a better and safer place for all Athenians — including for people who have disabilities. McNelly discussed accessibility within local businesses, various mobility hazards on sidewalks, and recommended improvements for uptown crosswalks. The tour concluded in Howard Park, where speakers from all over Athens shared support and upcoming improvements anticipated in the city.
Kicking off at Passion Works Studio located at 20 E. State St., Davey McNelly welcomes a crowd.
The Walk, Talk and Roll convened at Passion Works Studio. McNelly took the crowd back two years, recounting the time Passion Works recognized their need for an accessible door entrance. The studio took action by implementing a push-button door, “which is one thing people can do to make things more accessible,” McNelly explained.
In contrast, McNelly turned the attention of the crowd across the street to the island where Domino’s and a local law office sit. This area, McNelly said, is an “accessibility desert.” It has no crosswalks for pedestrians, no ramps or designated curb cuts, and “no way for a person who uses a wheelchair to get there, especially with the cracks on the entries for cars as well,” McNelly said.
McNelly addressed the sidewalk the crowd stood on as he pointed out the uneven concrete, which limits accessibility.
McNelly addresses the crowd at Tony’s Tavern, located at 7 W. State St.
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At Tony’s Tavern, at 7 W. State St., McNelly discussed an upcoming streetscaping project. Improving a “not quite ADA accessible” ramp and reorienting the front entrance could improve accessibility. Such changes “take a lot of collaboration between business owners and the city’s Engineering and Public Works to get that done correctly,” McNelly said.
“My band played Tony’s a couple weeks ago and you know sometimes we can’t play certain places. So if you want to hear really bad music, we can’t make it in if it’s not accessible,” he said, prompting laughter from the crowd.
Walk, Talk and Roll creator Robert Delach, a member of the Athens Disabilities Accessibility and Advocacy Committee, accompanied McNelly throughout the event. Delach added, “Think about examples that Davey talked about, like a two-tiered sidewalk. They have things like this in other places. That’s the kind of solution we’ve encouraged the city to consider.”
Before the journey to the next stop, McNelly offered a parting sidewalk joke: “You know what’s been really helping me to stay off the streets lately? Sidewalks.”
The crowd makes its way to MinuteMan Press and Donkey at 17 W. Washington St.
The tour’s third stop was Donkey Coffee and Espresso and Minuteman Press, 17 W. Washington St. Like most established local businesses in Athens, Minuteman Press retains the old structure of the sidewalks and has steps before its front door.
McNelly again recommended a two-tiered sidewalk.
Turning the attention to Donkey, McNelly pointed out the concrete on which the crowd stood. He explained that the sidewalk used to be brick and had “a lot of issues.” The disability commission worked with the city to address the situation, which McNelly said was one example “of how working together actually does work well.”
McNelly, still full of spirit, concluded the stop with another sidewalk joke: “I went to a Grateful Dead show a few weeks ago and it was pretty trippy, but you know what’s really trippy? Uneven sidewalks.”
McNelly leads the crowd across the intersection at West Washington and Court St.
Many crosswalks in Athens pose obstacles for people whose hearing or vision is impaired, Delach said. While some crosswalks have textured surfaces on the roadside to alert those with vision impairments, others do not.
The city’s upcoming streetscaping project will address this issue as well as improve curb cuts, Delach said.
Uneven bricks in the crosswalks — such as at the West Washington Street and Court Street intersection — are barriers for people who use mobility devices. Delach said the city is exploring using stamped concrete to improve crosswalk accessibility.
“They’re smoother but still textured so they look like bricks,” Delach said. “This keeps the look and feel of Athens while making it more accessible.”
Ultimately, these changes benefit all residents, Delach said: “If you make a place accessible, it makes it better for everyone else too.”
The crosswalk in front of the Athens City Building on East Washington Street uses stamped concrete. McNelly explained how this particular stamped sidewalk came to be: A previous city official caught her high heel in one of the bricks, prompting the renovation.
The tour concluded in Howard Park at the corner of Union and College streets, where the participants joined other community supporters.
“It’s not just one person that makes a place accessible,” McNelly said. “It’s a group of people. It’s a group of people like this today who all get together and not just ask for accessibility, but demand it from our city.”
Athens City Council President Chris Knisely said the city is committed to future accessibility improvements to make Athens a better and safer place, noting city-wide curb and ramp improvements this year along with improvements along Columbus Road.
It’s not an easy task, Athens City Service-Safety Director Andy Stone said, “We are trying to take a 230-year-old city and turn it into something much better for our citizens.”
Brenen’s Coffee Cafe co-owner Jessica Thompson said she made Brenen’s Coffee Cafe at 38 S. Court St. more accessible by installing a ramp at the entrance. Thompson urged those listening to reach out to businesses and start conversations about accessibility in local spaces.
Ohio University LGBT Center Assistant Director Sarah Doherty said she was ironically late to the day’s event because her route was not accessible. “When we have fewer barriers, our conversations start to be less about how do we get there, and more about what are we going to do when we get there,” Doherty said.
Annah Korpi, an instructor in OU’s Ohio Program of Intensive English, told the crowd, “There needs to be a paradigm shift in those who don’t live the experience of having a disability.”
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