By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant
For people with disabilities, navigating city streets can be difficult and even dangerous. UTC Social Work students Ryan Galloway and Demetria West held the first Disability Awareness Walk in downtown Chattanooga on Wednesday, March 5 to raise awareness of this issue.
“This walk was to raise awareness of different hazards for disabled people in and around Chattanooga and make it a friendlier, more accessible city for people with disabilities. I’m hoping to create a broader awareness of the issue in people that can help us create a change,” says Galloway, himself a disabled student.
The walk partnered participants with group leaders with disabilities who led them down Broad Street from the Tennessee Aquarium to Five Guys Burgers and Fries, pointing out potential difficulties and hazards for people with disabilities. The walk, a mere fifth of a mile, was intended to demonstrate the problems faced by those with visual, hearing, and mobility disabilities.
“I just listen for the traffic to stop, then I go,” said group leader Megan Hudgins, a psychology major from Apison, Tennessee who is visually impaired. “I try to listen for the parallel traffic to go first, but it doesn’t always work.”
Hudgins explained that chirping traffic signals and tactile paving, the bumps on the pavement that can be found at the edges of walkways that serve as a warning that the sidewalk is ending for vision impaired pedestrians, would be helpful cues for her. Several participants noted that they had seen the bumps on UTC campus, but never considered their purpose or their lack on other sidewalks.
“This is the first time I’ve walked downtown virtually by myself without a friend. I would never come here on my own. It’s just too dangerous for me,” says Hudgins.
The idea for the walk began as a project in Galloway and West’s Social Work Practice III class.
“We were discussing how we wanted to make community change and influence social policy,” said West.
“This started as a class project and grew into something much bigger and broader,” said Galloway.
Surveys were given to participants before and after the walk to gauge awareness and opinions on the issue and how they changed afterwards. The surveys will be presented to the Chattanooga City Council.
“I think the key is to create community awareness and community involvement, as well as government awareness on different issues in the community about what needs to be improved and changed to make this a more accessible city,” says Galloway.
The event was hosted through a cooperative effort between the UTC Social Work Department, the UTC Disability Resource Center, and the City of Chattanooga Office of Multicultural Affairs.
West and Galloway, both seniors, hope that the event will continue into the future.
“We’re trying to arrange with different social work professors to keep this moving forward when we leave,” says Galloway. “Any event to raise awareness like this, big or small, is really important and something to grow in future years. The fact that we’re starting this up this year, and that we’ve had a meeting with city council brings into focus things that are not always considered. Any start is always a good precursor to improvement.”
“We really want to see change, to see Chattanooga become a more accessible city for everyone with a disability. We hope that this will grow and improve next year and we hope this walk helped open some eyes and change some opinions,” says West.