PLATTSBURGH - Debra Buell has lived her life from a wheelchair for the last 20 years. And, it's been a life which has been made more difficult with poor handicap accessibility.
Buell, who was diagnosed with lupus in 1984, is currently working with the North Country Center for Independence as an independent advocate to help make people aware of the difficulties those with disabilities face.
"I've been pushed over, fallen on, broke a guy's foot when he walked in front of me going into a post office in New York City," she said. "The everyday assault on your senses for a disabled person is overwhelming. Because nobody can imagine it until they have to deal with it."
To change this, Buell is working with NCCI and anyone else interested in helping, to put together a video of problem areas in Plattsburgh and the surrounding towns.
"I've only surveyed 111 businesses so far," Buell explained. "But of them, 32 of them are lawyers and are not accessible."
"They should know better, she added. "They know the law."
However, Buell is hoping people will submit photos of areas that may not be handicap-accessible, or are considered accessible, but a wheelchair still wouldn't be able to get through.
"If you're looking down and you see a whole bunch of big holes, cracks ... that's going to do terrible damage to your chair, or your body," said Buell. "If you're in a manual wheelchair and you try to go down one of those, you'll tip."
Buell is planning on gathering the photos and hopes to put together a video in the near future and post it to YouTube to help bring awareness to the problem.
The project, known as "The Accessibility Project," will also be taken into the elementary schools where youngsters, who will be referred to as "Disability Detectives," will learn in a creative way what to look for on the streets.
"I believe in the power of kids and that's why I think kids will help us in this endeavor probably more than anybody else in getting adults to understand the problem. We're going to kind of play off of Sting's old song, 'Every Step You Take, Every Move You Make,'" Buell said.
Buell is also gathering similar information in Albany and New York City to show the problem is statewide.
"We have math geniuses at MIT, some friends of mine that have come up with a formula, an algorithm, where they can take a small city, a mid-size city and a big city and put this all together and come up with a pretty accurate picture of how accessibility is in New York State," she explained. "In three to five years from now, we'll have a picture and I think it's going to be a sad picture."
The information gathered will also help those who aren't disabled.
"Universal accessibility is good for everybody," said Buell. "Moms with strollers, they have the same issues that people in wheelchairs have. If you've got a stroller and you've got one or two kids in it and you're trying to go down the street and you've got a six-inch or a four-inch [curb], it doesn't feel safe. Moms will do it, but they have to lift a lot or go backwards down it so the baby doesn't get jostled too much."
Buell said she is hoping businesses will also step up to make their stores and offices more accessible.
"There is a lot of money out there and they would be adding customers to their business," she said.
To help The Accessibility Project, contact Buell at 632-4549 or 335-2720, or Andrew Pulrang at NCCI at 563-9058.