‘Plan with us and not for us’: Roaring Fork residents speak on how to make region more ADA accessible

Isaac Gomez using adaptive gear while climbing at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.
Cassandra Ballard/Post Independent

Accessibility in the Roaring Fork Valley is getting better each year, but there are always blindspots that can be highlighted.

Accessibility and Inclusion Virtual Summit was held on April 11 and hosted by Garfield County Public Health, in partnership with Arc of the Central Mountains, Mountain Valley Developmental Services, and Cook Inclusive, and here were the big take-aways:

“I feel like a tourist in my own town,” said Parker Wilson.

Wilson goes to Glenwood Springs High School and she explained how her and her friends play a game called tourist where they act like they are tourists. It’s fun, she said, but it also highlights all of the places she can’t go. 

Wilson requires a wheelchair to get around, but a lot of the fun places her friends enjoy in town are in historical buildings with stairs and don’t require Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility.

Historical buildings are not required to be ADA compliant, and it can be expensive for property owners to update. 

For her, it feels like she cannot fully participate with her friends in some of the places they enjoy the most.

Other aspects like outdoor recreation are getting more adaptive with more people in the Roaring Fork Valley offering therapeutic recreation, which aims to make recreation like swimming and climbing accessible to anyone. 

The meeting involved other spokespersons with disabilities, including caregivers and practitioners who work with people who have disabilities.

Corey Mineo, the president of The Arc of the Central Mountains and a local advocate for wheelchair accessibility, also spoke of some of his challenges getting around town in a wheelchair, and how many of them can be made easier through communication.

To bring awareness to some blindspots for accessibility, Mineo said he reminds people that he is a part of the community they claim to serve, yet he is being left out.

“Plan with us and not for us,” he said.

One example being the new street lights on Grand Avenue, replaced by the Colorado Department of Transportation, are out of reach for people in wheelchairs. He said he wishes they consulted someone in a wheelchair beforehand. 

“It’s the simplest things,” he said, “the smallest things that make the biggest difference.”

Snow can be an issue too. Mineo gets around by himself in town, but unshoveled walkways and parking lots can make it very challenging.

Independence is crucial for people transitioning into adulthood, and can be much harder for people with disabilities due to lack of resources. Kara Brouhard, who has lived independently with disabilities for decades and advocates with her mother Alice for others to have the same independence.

Alice highlighted how many more resources have come to the valley since Kara was younger.

When Kara became an adult, she and Alice were told she would have to move to Grand Junction or the Front Range to have independence, but Alice didn’t want to take her from her home, so they turned to technology for the help they needed.

Having more employment opportunities is important too, Alice said. People typically like to contribute to their community and make their own living, and everyone has talents they can contribute. 

Kara’s love of baking and her business, Kara’s Krunchies, bring joy to her and the community, and after years of finding resources, she is constantly on the go baking, crafting, doing outdoor recreation and hanging out with friends. 

“Separate is not equal, never has been, never will be, and a discussion like this helps to break down barriers and support inclusion and all kinds of aspects of life,” Alice said. 

Quality of life and being involved in the community is what each speaker appreciated and wanted to see more of. Alice said that sometimes it is just a matter of asking.

“There’s never been a clear path to follow, the services here can be so fragmented,” Alice said. “It’s almost like we need a roadmap to learn how to navigate the system and the services.”

Wilson is going to college soon and said she is concerned about finding the right resources for her independence. She’s concerned whether the buses and Colorado Mountain College can accommodate her needs.

“One of the biggest ones was that there are a couple handicap dormitories up there (at Spring Valley Campus), and that’s how I made myself more independent to stay up there throughout the week,” Mineo said. “No one ever told me that that was up there until I physically went there and saw it.” 

Other speakers who attended and offer resources throughout the valley include Laine Fabijanic with the city of Glenwood Springs, Cook Inclusive Company founder Kaleb Cook, Occupational Therapist for Garfield County School District Emily Bassett, Mountain Valley Development Services Manager of Community Connections Ryan Forsyth, Azula Behavior Consulting Brenda Rivera, MANUAS Project Lead of the Equity Action Project Bryan Alfredo Alvarez-Terrazas and more.

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