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Physical barriers experienced firsthand

October 25, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel and schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said they received an enlightening personal glimpse Thursday at life for people who must use wheelchairs.

As part of the fifth annual Barrier Awareness Day put on by Empowerment 2000, a disability support group, four officials agreed to try operating a wheelchair Thursday afternoon to increase their sensitivity to and awareness of what people who use wheelchairs experience.

The group's founder is Hagerstown City Councilman N. Linn Hendershot, who uses a wheelchair.

Hendershot led the group from City Hall to Public Square. Morgan and Christoffel drove electric scooters while Carol Mowen, Washington County Public Schools spokeswoman, and Martha Roulette, director of student services, pushed manual wheelchairs.

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On the way back to City Hall, Morgan hit a bump in a driveway.

"It really jolted me," she said.

Christoffel said he was more aware of traffic around him.

"You become more vulnerable and have less accessibility. Your ability to react is greatly diminished," he said.

Hendershot led Christoffel to the Washington County Department of Social Services office at 122 N. Potomac Street to show him the entrance from Potomac Street was inaccessible by wheelchairs because it is a few inches above the sidewalk.

While people in wheelchairs can get in the building from other entrances, it is more difficult for someone on Potomac Street, Hendershot said.

A sign on the door states: "Please use east entrance for child support services and handicapped accessibility."

The building was renovated by property owner Dominick Perini in 1990 before Social Services moved in, Perini said. Perini said he wanted to find a way to make the entrance wheelchair-accessible when the building was renovated but city staff members at the time rejected his proposed changes. The building does not violate any local or state codes.

Hendershot suggested he, Perini and Social Services Director David Engle meet with city staff members to find a solution to the problem and all involved agreed to do so.

Hendershot said the situation is just one example of a citywide problem of buildings that are inaccessible to people in wheelchairs.

School officials who took part in the program Thursday were shown accessibility and safety problems at Marshall Street School, Hendershot said.

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