How handicapped accessible is Sequim?

Crossing the street is scary.

It is an especially daunting and sometimes extremely dangerous task for visually impaired and disabled people in Sequim, particularly those using wheelchairs. Some who feel their safety needs as pedestrians are not being met are speaking out.

Kyle Parrish is president of the Visually Impaired Persons of Sequim, an organization that advocates for blind and visually impaired residents. Parrish walks with the assistance of a seeing-eye dog, Jed. According to Parrish, as development has increased in Sequim, so have the difficulties associated with pedestrian safety and access.

“This has been an ongoing issue for years and years. The basic name of the thing is pedestrian access and it’s not just limited to blind or wheelchair. It’s limited to most human beings,” said Parrish. “I challenge anybody to cross that crosswalk at that new traffic circle at Ninth (Avenue). I stood there and studied that intersection for 20 minutes a couple of Saturdays ago and the people coming off of Ninth (Avenue) — some of them stop, some of them gun it. It’s terrible.”

Parrish says that VIPS was a major proponent in the city’s introduction of audible crosswalk signals, which make a sort of chirping sound when the pedestrian crossing signal is lit. Parrish says, however, that the city has been lax in keeping up with the need, which he finds irresponsible, especially in

Sequim where the typical resident is 60 or older.

“Now we’ve got a new light at Hendrickson (Road) and Fifth (Avenue) with no audible signal and that’s sitting next to a huge retirement facility, Fifth Avenue Retirement apartments, and that’s a very dangerous road. There are several visually impaired people there,” said Parrish, who believes that the problem will only worsen with the waves of retirees coming to Sequim.

“It just seems to me with the building movement of the city that they would give more thought to pedestrian access. Is it all about cars? Yes, in my opinion, that’s all they’re worried about.”

Sherron Smith, another member of VIPS, says she’s almost been hit trying to cross West Washington Street. Smith is not only visually impaired but also uses a wheelchair and she says that some areas of the city are lacking proper, wheelchair accessible curb cuts and some intersection corners are not up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

“The dangerous thing about not having cut curbs, for wheelchair people that are visually impaired like myself, is that you can’t tell if there’s a portion of the sidewalk that’s missing or there’s a drop-off with no cut curb,” said Smith.

According to Public Works director Jim Bay, the difficulty is that the standards have changed rapidly over the past 20 years and there is not enough funding to make the entire city of Sequim wheelchair accessible.

“Some places are just not conducive for anybody to cross,” said Bay, pointing out that there are areas with sidewalks that don’t continue on the other side of an intersection. It’s just dirt. “In those cases I will not put a wheelchair ramp in. I just won’t do that.”

Parrish and Smith say they would like to have more input into present and future development projects within Sequim. They also would like to see the city council and city staff participate in a disability awareness event, to learn what it’s like to have to maneuver through the city as a blind or wheelchair-using individual.

“It has been offered for years by the Visually Impaired Persons of Sequim to be a consultant to the city, to point things out, to work together. They’ve never taken us up. I’m very hopeful that the new regime will. I’d really like to have an open dialogue with the city council and the city planners,” said Parrish. “Why don’t we get people out of their cars and give them a safe place to walk?”

Parrish’s faith in the council’s “new regime” is not unfounded. Already council member Ken Hays has asked the Public Works Department to draw up an accessibility map, which displays all the currently accessible routes for visually impaired and wheelchair-using individuals. Hays would like to see the map distributed throughout the Sequim community, even perhaps being put in Braille.

“It just seems that those who need them the most have the least way of accessing them,” said Hays.

Reporter’s comments: Going to take photos for this story, I nearly got hit by cars … twice. Both occurrences were as I was just stepping into the Safeway entrance nearest Burger King, which feeds onto West Washington Street. Thankfully I wasn’t in the road already or I’d be penning this from a hospital bed.

“They’ll run you over,” a woman said as we passed each other in the crosswalk.

Then I went to the stoplight of Hendrickson Road and Fifth Avenue, where I decided to experiment with the signal. I pressed the button and closed my eyes. Nothing. No chirping. If I hadn’t opened my eyes when I did, I would’ve missed the changing signal completely. I tried another two signals with the same result. Not only that, but I was struck by how quickly the signal changed. I have a pair of very mobile legs but at a normal rate of walking, I was still in the street by the time the signal changed. I can only imagine having to get across in a wheelchair or with the aid of a walking stick or seeing-eye dog.

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