I first interviewed Sarah Benj months ago. We talked about the accessibility features of places that people could not visit under lockdown. But that was all right because we thought the restrictions would be over soon.
Then, as the pandemic wore on, I recorded some pandemic-specific episodes and Sarah’s interview waited to get the attention it deserved.
This month I interviewed Everette Bacon, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah, and he brought us up to date about some of the accessibility features you can find in Salt Lake City.
These interviews discuss improvements made to 300 West, making it more accessible to people of all abilities.
We also talk about the trailers used by Salt Lake City to transport the wheelchairs of people with disabilities who need emergency transport.
Finally we learn about the AIRA app, helping the Blind navigate in crowded, busy places. It's available for free in the Washington Square area of SLC. This app has a free version with limited minutes, but users in Washington Square and the SLC Airport can use it for free for as long as it is needed.
As the pandemic winds down, it's good to know there are accessible public places for us to return to!
Welcome to Accessible Times, the UATP podcast. We talk about the technology that helps people be independent and how it changes lives. I'm JoLynne Lyon. Today we are talking to two experts on accessibility-- sort of. I first interviewed Sarah bench months ago, we talked about the accessibility features of places that people could not visit under lockdown. But that was all right, because we thought the restrictions would be over again soon. Remember that? Then is the pandemic wore on, I recorded some COVID specific episodes and Sara's interview waited to get the attention it deserved. This month, I interviewed Everett Bacon, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. And he brought us up to date about some of the accessibility features you can find in Salt Lake City. The bottom line is it doesn't happen by accident. And it happens best when you talk to people with a variety of abilities. So with that, let's learn about some accessible places we should all be able to visit soon in Salt Lake City.Sarah:
My name is Sarah Benj. I am from Sudan. I came to America in 1999. I came here as a refugee. I've been living here since I I started back in 2017 as an intern for the Jackie Biskupski Administration. As an ADA coordinator. I did that about for four months. And then Jackie Biskupski wanted me to come back and work as a full time ADA coordinator. And I what I tried to do for the city is try to make the city accessible for all. Meaning that you know when there's things that are happening in the city, or there's projects, or it's just I try to get my hands in anything that has to do with accessibility for the city. Our previous Mayor Jackie Biskupski, one of her goals was to make the city accessible for all. And she brought me on board to do that. And even with the new mayor, Mendenhall, she tried to do the same thing, she has the vision of trying to make the city accessible for all. So I try to see what's out there, what's the city, what other cities are doing, to just make sure that people with disabilities are not left behind, when their conversaion of trying to get new things or see what's out there.JoLynne Lyon:
And it does sound like there may be a tendency for people to say, oh, accessibility is such a great idea. Let's make sure that we do it. And yet, maybe they don't always bring in the people who would use the accessible space or the accessible program that they're building.Sarah:
Exactly. That the honest truth, I'll tell you about this project. It was it was fun. So um, third was, I'm not sure if you're familiar with salt lake city very muchJoLynne Lyon:
I'm familiar with third West because it has some of my favorite stores on it.Sarah:
It does have a lot of great things but the street, the street is not accessible at all. So what the city did, they asked me to bring those people on board, people that have actual disability, and try to go over the streets and see what as they're, as they're fixing the streets, see what they could do better. They hadvveme and a group of disabled individuals of all different disabilities. Probably about 10 of us. We all went out and talked about how individuals with disabilities traveledJoLynne Lyon:
your hearing ever at bacon.Unknown:
Now they were folks with the white canes like myself, guide dogs, as well as individuals using electric mobile wheelchairs or other types of mobile aids. In fact, individuals Deaf and Hard of Hearing as well. They may not use any mobile aids but they definitely talked about things that they might need as well.JoLynne Lyon:
And so what were some of the problems and how do you fix them?Unknown:
Sidewalks were in pretty poor shape. Driveways were not detectable very well. The bike lane is is also there's pretty much non existent. So you have bicyclists in other the scooters electric scooters on the sidewalks which was very problematic. There weren't curb cut outs in every single stop, which was problematic. And then there, you know, obviously there were not markings, identification for those curb cutouts, the the truncated domes that they usually have now.JoLynne Lyon:
Yeah. So when she first talked to me, I was picturing the area around Cauto's, I'm a foodie, I shop there a lot. Was that already in pretty good shape, then?Unknown:
That one was pretty good shape. But there's a bike lane there that is, is weird. And so we talked about that a lot. Because there's, there's this bike lane that has this separation. And when you're using a cane, the way it's the way it's separated, I can't tell if it's a street, or a bike lane. So um, and that was something we talked about in that area. So I think that that they're going to make that a little bit smaller, designated area with a different kind of mark, marking, like tactile marking that, so I know I'm in a bike lane, or I know the difference between the bike lane and the street. And I think that's like the first step for all the projects that are going to move be moving forward, because Salt Lake City is expanding, it's getting there, they're doing a lot of constructions and, and they just want to make sure: Hey, we, as we're doing this, let's add this to it or add this to improve it. The thing is, everybody, eventually they're going to have some type of disability, we are all temporary abled body, at some point of your life, you're going to run into some type of disability, you know, as you get older, or whatever. And so for me, I just want to make sure if you get there, I hope not. That there's things that are out there for you who there's accessible streets, restaurants, um, you know, anywhere, anywhere you go, that I don't want anybody that has a disability be let be left out.JoLynne Lyon:
And one of the reasons that I knew who you were, I went to a press conference where you were speaking and at the time, they were introducing a new trailer and a new way for wheelchairs to accompany people, if they were experiencing, experiencing an emergency, they were able to have their wheelchair go with them. And I know that this goes back a little bit in your history. They said that you were an intern at the time when you first started researching that. But I wanted you to talk a little bit about the research that you did the other cities that you talk to and what you found out about wheelchairs actually going with people when they had an emergency.Sarah:
So when I was an intern, our previous Ada coordinator, her name is Christine Passey. She asked me, she was just trying to get like ideas of I think she she has the same vision as I did is just trying to make this city accessible because of our previous mayor. She asked me, Hey, I need you to look into this project. I don't think there is a, like if you call 911 if you're in a wheelchair, what happens after that, and I actually shared my, my experience with her and I told her Yeah, I called 911 one time because I just was not feeling good. And I had to leave my wheelchair at home. So what she tasked me to do he told me that How about you call major states and ask them what they do in such crisis such as someone that needs to get transported to the hospital? So I call Chicago, New York, California, all these major cities and their most of them, they told me Oh, yeah, well, you could get, we could transport that person but we need to get a third party to come and transport their wheelchair. So like 911 did not like dispatch or emergency vehicle that did not have any lifts for for someone that needs to go to the hospital and there they use wheelchair as a something that their mobility for them and yeah. So what I came up with, they don't have it they always have to use a third party or they have to use a private party to get their wheelchair transported which costs money. And I I thought about it and that's like that's not fair because if you as an able bodied person, if you call 911 you will get taken care of and you're fine and I don't want to be taken care of another bill. That's what I was thinking in my head. So the staff, the mayor's office, they, they got, they found lifts. And I did share those lifts with other people after they saw the press conference, they said it was a great thing. Can you please give us this information? So we can use it? We can we get added to our actually it was, I think it was a Huntsman Huntsman center, they emailed me after they seen that there is something such as and it's not so pricey, so Salt Lake City ended up adding two lifts at two to their emergency cars. So now that and I talked to a chief Carl, and he said that's such a great thing we actually do use them. I'm glad that you could do that. And the thing that sucks about this whole thing I I live in South Salt Lake and South Salt Lake, it's a different county. We don't have that here. And so I have been thinking about it. I'm like I should I should call I should call Salt Lake County in the mayor's office and see if they could add that to their, to their emergency cars if I call 911. Because after we add that to Salt Lake City, I'm like, I worked so hard on this, and now I can't even use it. So that's that's one of the things that I want to talk to Salt Lake County and see if they could add that and hopefully, it could be all over the valleys in Utah period. Because I know there's a lot of people with disabilities that use wheelchairs, and I would love for them to get to the hospital comfortable and their wheelchairs with them basically. Yes, until you've stopped a lot.JoLynne Lyon:
And hospital and you do not have your wheelchairUnknown:
with you.JoLynne Lyon:
I know it must be an obvious question. But what difficulties does that cause if you're in a hospital without your wheelchair?Sarah:
it limits your limits your freedom to like, let's say I am going to be there for a couple of days. They do have their their manual chairs, but it's just like, how I saw last time I went to the hospital how I looked at it is just like you driving someone else's car. Instead of your drive. It just feels weird. It does not feel I don't know. I I'm like nope, I need my wheelchair back. Take me back home. So it does not feel good. It limits your freedom to move around. If that makes sense at all.JoLynne Lyon:
Yes. And I believe you use a motorized chair or do you? Yeah. Yeah, yeah,Sarah:
it's I call it a power chair.JoLynne Lyon:
And at the hospital, I assume it's manual.Unknown:
Yep. For someone, I am very weak. I can't. I do have a manual chair. I only use it when I'm going out and going out with family. Because my power chair you cannot fit it in the car. It's about 250 pounds. So if you if you have your macho man, you could fit it but so when I go out and about I take my manual chair and I have to depend on someone else to push it not everybody's like that, but because of my injury. It limits my strength to be pushing myself around, if that makes sense. So I like my powder because it gives me the freedom to just roll and go fast if I want to.JoLynne Lyon:
Here's a word from UATP.Unknown:
Utahns with disabilities: Did you know we can help you start or expand a business? We've partnered with the Utah Microloan Fund to provide reduced interest loans to entrepreneurs. The loans can help with assistive technology or other business needs. Proof of disability is required. For more information, visit the Utah Assistive Technology Program website and look for our financing options.JoLynne Lyon:
Now let's get back to our program. There was one other thing I wanted to ask you about. You'd mentioned it when we talked at disability advocacy day and I believe it's the AIRA. Yes, AIRA. So tell me about that in Salt Lake.Sarah:
Um, so AIRA I, I, a previous Chief of Staff heard about it. I did not know much about it. And they told me to look into it and see how we could get it in Salt Lake City and I, It wasn't that hard because I have someone in our disability advisory committee who is visually impaired. So he connected me with the Vice President of AIRA and I asked him, Hey, this is what this is what our mayor wants...Unknown:
AIRA, spelled AIRA. And it's a visual interpretation service that can be used through your phone's camera and a mobile application. So basically, how it works is you activate the mobile application, you make a call, and a live agent who is trained in working and giving visual information to blind individuals. They are on the other line, and they can see through your phone's camera. And it was something that I started using, oh, probably about, I want to say 2016 or 2017. And I was I was using that service when I was traveling in airports and other busy places to get around by myself. And I just felt it was a great service. And,JoLynne Lyon:
and to interrupt just really quick. Is this something that you had to pay for when you were in those places?Unknown:
So in those places, no. Like in the airport, the Salt Lake City Airport, there was a time where you did but but we've we've we've worked with the Salt Lake International Airport and the Salt Lake City mayor's office to basically the Salt Lake International Airport pays for that for us. So when I get into the bubble of the the airports' destination, it is free whenever I'm there anytime I'm there for as long as I needed me to use it.JoLynne Lyon:
but it is a paid service in other places. Salt Lake, the Salt Lake City mayor's office has also made it free in what's called the we call it the Washington Square area in Salt Lake City. And so it involves Gallivan Plaza, the the entire building area where the the Salt Lake City building is, there's this huge area that is done for a lot of outdoor festivals. And it's all covered when you're in that area, as well as the Leonardo museum.JoLynne Lyon:
That's awesome. Does it work everywhere. Like if you came if you came to a little town Magna, no Magna's not a great example. I tried to think of a small southern Utah town. If you went to Leeds, would it work there?Unknown:
As long as you have internet? Yes. Okay, um, it and you don't have to have the internet. It works 5g. So where 4 or 5g is, it works. Obviously, if you went to a very an area where 4g or 5g wasn't available, it wouldn't work.JoLynne Lyon:
Great. And so this is something that is available. If you're in one of the places that it's a free zone, you can get it for free. And how did that happen? You said that you worked with the mayor's office to make that happen? SureUnknown:
did. Yeah, I'm on the mayor's Council for accessibility. I've been on that for probably six years now. And it was something that I was passionate about. I knew it would help a lot of blind people in the area, especially ones that love to go to festivals when we can all go to festivals again. It took about two years to get it done. But but but to the mayor, I started with the mayor, the mayor before, Jackie probably Oh, yeah. Jackie Jackie. Yeah, I started with her. She actually made it happen. And Mayor Mendenhall has just kept it going.Sarah:
And he shared his thought he said that it means most of the time when there's events or they have to rely on holding somebody's hand. So they said that it gives them the freedom of independency of just turning this this thing on and, and having someone to, to to just tell them exactly what they're seeing on on a headphone or on loudspeaker. It was pretty cool when when when we did the press conference on it and he was able to get around the city and county building to like let's just say he's going over there to pay a ticket and he's looking for 304, second floor and the person just tells him exactly where to go. It's pretty cool. I actually tried it myself. I wanted to make sure it was working. I was like oh my Gosh, you can really see everything that I see. Like, yeah, we can. So it's, it's a pretty cool thing. And I'm glad that I'm glad that we were able to get it in downtown. And hopefully we could like expand it and talk to other people that have such big places to have such thing for people that are visually impaired.JoLynne Lyon:
Yeah, it sounds like a really useful service. And, and yes, I know that a lot of people have it privately, but they have to pay for it. So yeah, it's cool that Salt Lake has instituted that I think some other cities are doing that as well. SoSarah:
that is that is correct. The vice president had shared with me from AIRA he shared with me the, at the press conference, other cities are done. Because I'm like, What are the talking points? What How can we how can we make this to a great turnout, and I was surprised that most cities are using them. And I'm trying to see but grocery stores could use it. You know, and in Salt Lake City, and that's some that's a that's a bigger topic to talk about. But it'll be it'll be really nice if we can have them. In most grocery stores, libraries, I mean, our libraries covered by AIRA, that covers a big area in downtown, including including the library, including the museum there, the Leonardo museum. So yeah, it's pretty cool. I love it.JoLynne Lyon:
I had one other question. And this one is, I know gonna sound from out of left field, but Salt Lake City has a lot of resources, you know, it's a large city, there's tax revenue. Some smaller towns maybe don't have the same population and, and reach. And, you know, it's harder for them to even hire an ADA coordinator. I'm just wondering if there are steps that they could take, in your opinion to make their their towns and small cities more accessible?Sarah:
Like, what steps could they take is, like, when they're doing projects, hear other people's opinion, and maybe sending their word out, hey, we are trying to build our city better. And we want to hear from your community, what do they want, maybe having a city that has a committee such as ours, and share their opinion with the council members, maybe they need to go out there when their councils are having any councils meeting. And maybe that's the way it could be done without having an ADA coordinator. So just sending the word out there having let them know that, hey, this is what's going on, you know, the city's doing anything, hey, this is what's going on. We want to hear your, your opinion, your thoughts, your feedback, on how we could build our small town to be accessible for all, don't know if that answers you questionJoLynne Lyon:
It does. ThankJoLynne Lyon:
you. And, and I do feel like we've kind of come full circle here that a lot of the work is just asking the questions and, and welcoming that feedback.Sarah:
That's correct. Yes.JoLynne Lyon:
All right. Is there anything else that you wanted to tell me?Sarah:
I want people disabilities to go out there and let their voice be heard. Let them advocate from that for themselves. And I try to push that to everyone like hey, you know, there's people that are willing to listen, willing to make changes. Just don't be afraid to go out there and speak up. Let your voice be heard. Let your let your let yourself be on the table when conversations such as fixing roads or or having thoughts about scooters being all over the places or all this stuff. So I just hope that people disabilities just speak for themselves advocate for themselves. And yeah, i think i think that's that's, that's what I would say if I if I have anyone to hear this.JoLynne Lyon:
Thank you for listening to Accessible Times: The UATP podcast is brought to ou by the Utah Assistive echnology Program, part of the enter for Persons with isabilities at Utah State niversity.