My name is Matthew Briney and I am a resident of La Grande who has a disability. I grew up in Union County. My family moved to Cove from Island City for my education to accommodate with my disability, cerebral palsy.

After I graduated from high school, my family moved to downtown La Grande for the convenience of not having to travel 20 minutes constantly from Cove to La Grande. This makes doing errands and our activities easier. I was planning to go to college at Eastern Oregon University, and my father would be closer to where he works. The advantage of the house that we moved into was that the college was just a block away and up a hill.

While living in La Grande comes with many benefits, there is a subtle obstacle that became much more noticeable as I lived in La Grande for a while. This obstacle that I have experienced is an accessibility issue.

See, before this pandemic shutdown, I enjoyed taking walks, or “scrolls” in my case, in the spring and summer. Especially, if you live downtown, the walking distance to most if not all places is reasonable. In summer, I would like to “walk” to the farmers market on Saturday and to Cook Memorial Library or Le Bebe Cakes Bakery every so often. Despite having activities be so close, the majority of the sidewalks aren’t accessible and don’t have curb cuts.

This makes getting around this town challenging not only for the elderly, but for the people like me who have a disability that affects their mobility. When I go somewhere or just for a walk in general, it tends to feel like a maze trying to navigate and to find wheelchair-friendly sidewalks that I can safely get on/off of with my electric wheelchair.

Without these essential curb cuts, oftentimes I had been forced to drive on the side of roads, which isn’t ideal and is a safety hazard. There are other times when I am fortunate enough to use the sidewalks but to do so I have to go the opposite direction than I intend until I have a chance to cross over, including driving up driveways. For example, the block where I live doesn’t have any curb cuts, meaning I have to use my neighbor’s driveway to get to my house, which is an inconvenience.

This is a problem that really needs to be fixed. Updating these old sidewalks would make life easier for residents of this town, especially those who are disabled or who are elderly.

I hope writing about this topic can bring awareness and make accessibility a priority not only in La Grande, but to Union Country as well.

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Matthew Briney graduated from Cove High School and is a La Grande resident. He is passionate about writing, being active in the community and sharing his experiences as a person who has a disability.

 

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