Accessible sidewalks in Edinburg for the disabled and wheelchair users require more than just a curb, according to environmental advocates and those charged with patient care.

Sidewalks in the city may fall short of meeting Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and are barriers, even hazardous for the disabled, according to some on Edinburg’s Environmental Advisory Board. The Board is currently in the process of developing recommendations to Edinburg’s City Council for a city-wide pedestrian plan.

“I think Edinburg has a way to go to make our walking facilities accessible for everyone,” said Mark Peña, EEAB boardmember and coordinator of Edinburg’s CoolCities climate change initiative. “I know there has been a real effort to incorporate more ramps for wheelchairs. A lot of this is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990, and Edinburg needs to comply with that.”

Non-continuous sidewalks which just “cut off”, inadequate lighting, and even tactile functions on roadways that are not formally designated for people with disabilities are prevalent in the area, according to the Valley Association for Independent Living (VAIL). The organization specializes in access improvements.

VAIL suggests that those with disabilities call 2-1-1 from a landline to find out about additional resources. Dialing 2-1-1 will connect callers to the Community Counsel in Weslaco, and an operator there can advise them about resources available here in the Valley.

“There are numerous helpful tools business owners can use to help the disabled and to learn about Texas and Federal regulations,” said Melissa Escamilla, VAIL Deputy Director for Programs. “We do get business owners who call us and ask questions like ‘how wide do the doorways and aisles need to be?’ We can get them that information.”

The ADA regulation includes Standards for Accessibility Guidelines, which includes establishing minimum standards for accessibility when designing and constructing a new facility or altering an existing one.

Regulations provide clear specifications and requirements for wheelchair ramp construction and safety, according to healthcare providers.

“There are people who use power scooters and wheelchairs for many reasons,” said Diana Peña, Director of Nursing for Verge Home Care in Edinburg. “Some use canes or other devices to help them if they have trouble standing for a long time. In any case, wheelchair ramps are needed for these people to get around, and the laws protecting those with disabilities have had a huge impact on the increasing number of ramps being built.”

Wheelchair users cite getting through the door as a major obstacle when they are trying to patronize businesses, Diana Peña said,

Because many disabled individuals are in wheelchairs, making businesses fully wheelchair accessible is important, as well as legally required for new construction and newly remodeled stores, Peña said. Aisles and doorways should be wide enough for wheelchairs to pass through, and hazards like cords strung across the floor must be eliminated.

Business owners should also consider ways to shelve and display their products by keeping items within reach of a person using a wheelchair, according to Peña. For products left high on shelves, call buttons to alert employees for assistance is also needed, and are crucial,

“As someone who enjoys walking, I know that some areas of the city can be challenging for someone without disabilities,” Mark Peña, said. “I can’t even imagine what it must be like for someone trying to maneuver some of these locations in a wheelchair or what kind of experience it would be for someone who is blind. We want to improve these locations and make sure the facilities are the best they can be.”

Before the ADA was enacted, people who needed ramps to get around would have to fend for themselves, he said. Now most new businesses are protecting the rights of people with disabilities and living up to their responsibility to assist the disabled.

It is for this reason, wheelchair ramps can now be seen on many buildings and apartment complexes. This signifies our society’s growing awareness and increasing desire to reach out to people who need assistance, Mark Peña said.

“I think the entire region, not just Edinburg, has a long way to go to ensure that public facilities are accessible for everyone,” Mark Peña said. “I think the Americans with Disabilities Act did a wonderful thing for everybody, not just people with disabilities, but for everyone, making it much more comfortable and easier to get in and out of places. But we definitely need to be mindful of people with disabilities and make sure that all of our facilities, walking facilities and crosswalks accommodate everyone.”

Those interested may find out more about VAIL through their web site www.valleyassociation.org or may contact directly at the organization’s local number (956) 668-8245 or toll free 1-866-400-8245.