Walk, roll points to needs

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Register/Anne Kazmierczak
Iolan Agune Shapel (in chair) leads about three dozen individuals who joined the Resource Center for Independent Living’s Walk and Roll around the Iola square Saturday morning in an effort to raise awareness about obstacles to independence for mobility impaired people in Kansas.

Marie Clement enjoyed her visit to Iola this weekend as Ms. Wheelchair Kansas. Clement’s purpose was to help raise awareness about mobility impairment as part of the Resource Center for Independent Living’s Walk and Roll around the Iola square Saturday morning.
Clement wasn’t always confined to a chair. Like many wheelchair users, she said, she is permanently restricted due to a spinal cord injury.
On New Year’s eve in 1997, “I got blown off a road in Wyoming,” she said. Driving north to visit relations, her van was tumbled. Clement’s six-month old son was thrown from the vehicle, but miraculously was not hurt. Clement, however, was pinned.
“My pelvis was broken, my back was broken.”
She was hospitalized for six months, and has been wheelchair-bound ever since.
However, it wasn’t until she moved to Kansas in 2002 that she became mobility impaired.
“I lived in Las Vegas. Everything is handicapped-accessible there,” she said. From her home, she could roll to stores, restaurants and social events, she said.
Now living in Mayetta, she observed, “These small towns are not accessible. Most of my friends — I can’t even get in their houses.”
Clement said it can be a lonely life for the wheelchair-bound. “Without access, you’re stuck in your home, in front of the TV or computer. That’s not good.”
“People who are able-bodied don’t realize,” the hardships faced by the mobility impaired, agreed Iolan Agune Shapel. At 25, Shapel has “been in a wheelchair most of my life,” he said.
Suffering from muscular dystrophy, Shapel has found Iolans fairly accommodating of his restrictions.
“People were good about it at my schools, and at the college,” he said.
Shapel graduated from Allen County Community College and now works as a mobile disc jockey.
Clement agreed that Iola seemed more accessible than some small towns, but the walk around the square proved her initial observation optimistic.
About half way through the first block, chair users had to maneuver around a broken sidewalk — just a couple inches of uneven concrete made an impasse. At a corner curb, most chair users needed assistance to keep from falling as they tried to get across the street.
Shapel said in Iola, several corner sidewalks have lightposts in them, and while one end of a block may have a curb cut, the other does not.
Those seemingly minor obstacles are like facing a wall, Clement said.
“There’s several restaurants I can’t even get in to,” she said.
Clement uses an electric wheelchair, which is wider than those designed to be pushed, she said.
“They rarely fit in a bathroom,” she said.
“Statistics say one in 250 people are disabled,” Clement said, “but I think that’s low.”
Clement said businesses — and communities — should realize that wheelchair users need access. They are lsoing business when people can’t come in, she said.
As part of her reign as Ms. Wheelchair Kansas, Clement plans to create a Web site for wheelchair users listing accessible business and community sites throughout the state.