FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Getting around Northwest Arkansas can be a headache sometimes. As more people move to the area, that means more traffic and increased construction.
But what if you couldn’t drive yourself around? What if the bus doesn’t come to your neighborhood? What if you couldn’t walk on the sidewalk because you can’t see where you’re going?
These are the challenges that face people who are disabled.
“Maybe somebody will care,” said Kay Kitterman. “Maybe somebody will hear this and they can do something and it will make a difference.”
Kitterman is a Fayetteville resident who has a mission: to make the city more accessible and inclusive.
“I’d like to see us work on more universal building standards and better transportation,” she said.
She advocates for these changes because she has to.
“I’ve been disabled for 15 years, now,” she said. “I have a rare neurological disease and an immune system disorder that I developed after a surgery.”
Kitterman is a Navy veteran who uses a motorized wheelchair to get to most places. Safety is a big issue for her.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have been run over, almost run over, like inches, actually, the last time from cars while I was in a crosswalk,” she said.
She said people are often distracted while driving and aren’t looking out for pedestrians crossing the street.
“I wait and make sure that people see me and make eye contact with me,” she said. “I’m in a wheelchair it’s not like I can just move out of your way.”
She said she can get to her doctor’s appointments easily through the VA’s paratransit services. However, getting around to other places in town isn’t as easy.
“We want to go to the library. We want to go to church. We just need a little help with that,” she said.
So she decided to do something about it.
“I started out going to the transportation meetings at city hall because I thought it was important that if I’m going to be disabled, and I’m around people who are not disabled, they need to see what we go through. I can’t even get through a doorway,” she said.
She said even attending these city meetings was a challenge. Ozark Regional Transit bus routes stop at 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and the meetings often end later than that.
“I would be outside of the city hall, as a woman, alone in a wheelchair for sometimes 30 minutes or an hour when it was dark, and I have no way to protect myself or get out of the elements,” she said. “To me that’s just not acceptable.”
So when the City of Fayetteville asked if she would be its American Disabilities Act Representative, she said she was blown away.
“I was absolutely completely honored,” she said.
She works with the Active Transportation Committee to come up with solutions.
“That committee’s focused on trails, walking, biking, sidewalks, everything pedestrian, cyclists,” said Dane Eifling, the mobility coordinator for the city of Fayetteville.
He said people who are disabled are a big priority for him.
“We want to have a community that is inclusive, where everybody can come and enjoy the farmers market and the trails and be a part of the community and not feel excluded,” he said.
The city’s roadmap for accessibility is its Mobility Plan. Its goals are to make a transportation network that is safe, equitable, multi-modal, sustainable, and supports economic growth.
“Part of that is making sure that you have good amenities at the bus stops, which behind me is an example of a bus shelter,” said Eifling as he stood by the bus stop at the corner of Church Avenue and Center Street. “The city’s deployed about a dozen of these over the last few years.”
The new bus stop shelters are covered, have good lighting, and are paved all the way to the edge of the road. This is important for bus riders who use wheelchairs.
“In some cases, our bus stops are just in the grass or places like that where a chair or somebody who maybe is on their feet would have a great difficulty, but now we have a proper boarding platform,” he said.
One of the things Kitterman has helped advocate for is the new Ozark Regional Transit On-Demand service. She even did a trial run with her wheelchair from her apartment to Whole Foods.
“I’ve heard it described as free Uber,” said Eifling. “Basically, you have the app, the bus will come to your house, pick you up and take you to a destination.”
“It could be a very wonderful mode of transportation to cut down on traffic throughout the city,” said Kitterman. “There’s no winging it for us. So I’m hoping that we can find a way to get our transportation people that coordinate with ORT and Razorback Transit and with our city and with our committee.”
In part two of Accessible NWA, KNWA/FOX24 talks with ORT about his challenges and opportunities in serving Northwest Arkansas as a public transportation option.
You’ll also meet Rita Reese-Whiting and learn about the accessibility struggles she faces as someone who is blind.
This story will air on Monday, October 23rd on FOX24 News at 9 and on KNWA News at 10.