Safe Street Crossings: Martha’s story

Martha Mae Bryson with two of her grandchildren.

Springfield resident Martha Mae Bryson has been a political activist for decades. Previously, she formed the Long Beach Homeless Union and the Texas Welfare Rights Association, and has been a presenter at conferences on hunger issues and the effects of homelessness on children. 

Most recently, she has worked to get medically fragile homeless people housed in Douglas County, Oregon. She was a disability rights activist for decades, prior to becoming disabled herself.

Do you still live in Roseburg? How long have you lived there for?

I’m originally from Texas. I lived in Roseburg for the past four years, and was dealing with mobility access problems the entire time I lived there.

Last August, I moved to Springfield, and am experiencing the same problems here in this community.

Can you tell us about the street crossing problems there?

I live on a service road to  State Highway 126. To get my blood drawn I go three-quarters of a mile East to the lab, and have to crossover 126 on Mohawk Road.

I also go that way to go swimming at the Willamalane Park Swim Center. I swim the length of seven football fields three times a week. It’s only one and a half miles from my house.

The wheelchair cut outs at Mohawk and 126 are so steep that I have to turn around and back up the ramps. And when I get up there, I can’t reach the button to make the crossing sign come on.

When the streets are wet, my wheelchair slides off the sidewalk at the ramps, into the street and cars almost hit me. It is very scary and stressful to deal with these unsafe street crossing conditions.

Why do you think these problems have persisted for so long?

The ADA has been in effect for 24 years and so many places are still not ADA- compliant. We see people paying lip-service to being ADA-compliant and not asking disabled people whether something is truly accessible.

You’ve mentioned public education about inclusion as an ongoing issue. Can you explain?

It’s a component that has not been stressed enough. If we don’t help the public understand that people in walkers and wheelchairs need to be able to go where people with legs go, we’ll continue to have issues.

For example, people taking up sidewalk wheelchair ramps, when they could step off the curb, while those in wheelchairs cannot.

People rush right past me to fill up space in elevators, preventing me from being able to use it, too.

It makes me feel that I’m invisible to them, just because I’m in a wheelchair instead of being able to walk.

There are many of these types of situations occurring daily in my life and that of other differently-abled folks, which cause undo stress that negatively affects our health issues and overall quality of life.

This is the impact of not educating the public about inclusion.

If more of the public knew what it takes for disabled people to navigate around town, and how draining and taxing it is to deal with these types of barriers and inclusion issues, I think there would be a lot more support to correct the problems.

When these improvements are made, what will it mean for your daily life?

I’ll be able to more easily go to the grocery store,  library, the pool – all of the places that non-disabled people go to take care of their business.  In the short time I’ve lived in my neighborhood, I’ve observed nine different wheelchair users passing by my house, which is a significant number.

I wonder, “What are their lives like?”  These problems must be affecting their lives, too.