The Nicollet Mall light-rail station in Minneapolis is a busy one during the afternoon rush hour, with everyone wanting to go home from long days at work. At this point in the day, people are not as friendly, patient or attentive. They are mostly just Minnesota, with an emptying tank of nice.
On several occasions, I have observed as visually impaired Minnesotans exit the train and get promptly walloped by the doors, with their canes getting stuck as they try to feel their way off the train. On Wednesday evening as I made my way to the bus, an urban-design flaw almost killed two visually impaired Minnesotans. A blind woman, her blind friend and their service dog were trying to find their way to the platform and missed it completely, ending up on the tracks.
With an gap on both sides of the platform, it is easy to end up on the tracks, since there is not enough of a barrier to make it clear that one is entering dangerous territory. The train driver began to honk the horn, and panic ensued as they tried to figure out where they were in relation to the train that was coming right for them. Although this incident ended with a good Samaritan helping them off the train tracks and on their way to their intended destination, design that is not universal leaves much to be desired for the visually impaired in the Twin Cities area.
The world is not designed for people with disabilities, but it is up to all of us to make sure that this changes.
The Metropolitan Council oversees transit in the metropolitan area. This organization is the gatekeeper, entrusted with taxpayer dollars to make sure that transit is affordable and accessible for all Minnesotans. In the past year, the council has begun a self-evaluation with a local accessibility consulting firm to identify gaps in accessibility and ways to plug them. With more than 3,000 facilities in the metro area that fall under the council’s mandate, it is an extensive endeavor to weave accessibility into the fabric of our cities.
The utopian vision is to never see incidents such as the one that occurred at the Nicollet Mall Station because the world is designed for those with disabilities to have full access. The fact is, if we live long enough, at some point in our lives we will become temporarily or permanently disabled. That knowledge and the acceptance of this fact should make us eager to create a metro area we can all access.
The act of removing physical barriers is a great start, yet what we also must grapple with are the societal barriers that exist regarding disability and impairment. When we take the time to assist someone who is not able to cross the street. When we move off the accessible seating on the bus so that an elderly Minnesotan can sit down. When we offer our arm to a visually impaired person who has walked on to the light-rail tracks, we teach those around us, through actions, that we need to do more. We must do more.
Paidamoyo Chikate, of Minneapolis, is a policy analyst. She is at email@example.com.