Over the Hill

Wheelchairs have a tough time rolling through the streets of Paso

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

Question: When is going for a walk in your own neighborhood an enlightening experience? Answer: When you are pushing someone in a wheelchair. I do that occasionally and have been enlightened as to the perils of improper wheelchair curb cuts.

I push and my wife Mamie rides. She gets a change of scenery and I get some needed exercise. I also notice things I never see while driving or strolling. I notice the condition of sidewalks. I notice overgrown bushes that impinge on sidewalks. I notice curb cuts. A curb cut is a hard ramp that extends from a sidewalk down to a street. A wheelchair curb cut is like a driveway curb cut, only much narrower.

Every street corner in my neighborhood in Paso Robles has a wheelchair curb cut. The curb cuts have what I call a lip facing the street. Some of those lips are too high. They stop our wheelchair. The chair’s two, small front wheels can’t roll over things that high, especially when carrying an adult.

When our wheelchair gets blocked like that, I have to tip Mamie and the chair backward until its small front wheels clear the lip. Then I can push the chair on its two, big rear wheels over the lip and onward. Doing that has enlightened me about the perils of improper curb cuts.

Suppose you are a disabled person travelling alone in your wheelchair, propelling yourself along by turning its big rear wheels with your hands. And suppose your chair gets stopped by a high curb-cut lip.

To get your chair moving you’d have to shift your weight and tip your chair backward far enough for its small front wheels to clear the high curb-cut lip. But if you aren’t skillful enough you might tip over backward. Even if you weren’t seriously injured, would you be able to right the wheelchair by yourself, and climb back into it?

My neighborhood was built around 1980. I doubt our curb cuts meet the current requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We must have learned something since 1980. The city recently improved handicapped access along Spring Street and in parts of downtown.

I bet, however, that we still have thousands of improper curb cuts. We probably can’t improve them all at once. But not long ago we Paso Roblans voted to raise our sales tax so the city can rehabilitate our crumbling streets. Each new street project should include improved wheelchair curb cuts.

Who knows who will need them? An accident tomorrow could disable me or you or a loved one. Age also brings disabilities. And we will have disabled veterans for a long time to come.

>i>Phil Dirkx's column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.