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The number of people locally with disabilities is increasing; and as some have discovered, parts of southwest Missouri are not as accessible for treatment. KSMU’s Kaitlyn Schwers reports on efforts to accommodate more disabled people as the population grows.
When William Stork relocated to Springfield from San Diego, he said he experienced “a culture shock.” But it wasn’t because he moved from the coast to the Midwest. He had found that it was more difficult to get around. Stork has multiple sclerosis and he uses a power chair.
“It seemed like everything in San Diego was wider…The streets were wide, any store I went into, it was fully accessible. I could just pull open the door and go in and shop,” Stork said.
Since he’s lived in southwest Missouri, he has experienced a variety of inaccessibility issues—public bathrooms are too small, shop aisles are almost impossible to navigate, and some streets aren’t well lit at night.
“It feels like it’s almost a daily barrier of things I have to go through because I’m in a power chair, you know. Every day struggle.”
Stork is not the only one who knows the struggle. According to the US Census, he is among 81,000 people with either one or more disabilities in eight southwest Missouri counties. That includes not only physical ailments, but also mental, emotional, cognitive, or sensory—permanent or temporary.
To help combat these issues, Stork volunteers with the Southwest Center for Independent Living in Springfield, also known as SCIL, an advocate organization that works to provide resources and services for people with any type of disability. It is owned and operated by people with disabilities, and serves eight area counties.
Since Stork began volunteering, he’s had success helping Springfield become a bit more accessible. He joined an advisory board for the City of Springfield, and has worked with businesses. In one instance, as he describes, Stork helped a fast food restaurant.
“As people file through, ordering their food, well that’s the same side that they have their only accessible entrance into the restaurant, and so talking to the management and talking to one of their corporate managers as well, we all came up with a solution that if they put in a sign that warns drivers that, wait a minute, this is a crossing area for people with disabilities. That worked itself to save injuries,” he said.
Gary Maddox is the CEO of the Southwest Center for Independent Living. He hopes to reach out to what he says is a growing population of people with disabilities. Recently, SCIL reported that numbers have been increasing in Stone and Taney counties because that is where more people are retiring. The chances of getting a disability increases with age, he explains.
“The number of persons that we are serving in Stone and Taney County is about 300 percent more than it was in 2009, which is why we’re moving into a larger facility and adding staff," Maddox said.
SCIL’s new location in Branson will have the same services it offers in Springfield. Echoing Stork, Maddox adds that the Branson area can also be challenging to get around.
“It’s a 45 minute drive. And so, a lot of times people have difficulty—especially if you’re low-income or living just above the poverty thresholds, but you have needs. It’s important for us to be integrated into that particular community because we see a lot of growth down there and there are not a lot of services available in the Stone and Taney Country areas. So strategically, we wanted to reach out in a more economical way than having people drive back and forth all the time, to have a place where they can call their own,” Maddox said.
The new Branson facility will host an open house on Tuesday, July 30 from 11-2. It is located at 109 North Veterans Blvd, Suite 400.
Learn more about SCIL by visiting swcil.org.
For KSMU News, I’m Kaitlyn Schwers.