For people like Ellen Perry, traveling around Orange County is more difficult than it is for most individuals. Perry has cerebral palsy and cannot get to – or into – many locations that physically able people can visit.
To help those with physical disabilities navigate Orange County, she worked with the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau to create the 2015-2016 Chapel Hill/Orange County Access Guide, now available at local visitors centers and at visitchapelhill.org. It will be published every two years.
“I wanted to see the guide published because of the growing number of travelers with disabilities,” said Laurie Paolicelli, the bureau’s executive director. The project started after Perry stopped by one day, and it took about a year to complete.
The guide is meant to accompany the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Guide.
Perry, who uses an electric wheelchair, personally visited all of the locations in the guide to determine if they were accessible. The guide contains a description of different Orange County communities, an explanation of how it should be used, information about the accessibility of various locations, and parking maps.
The accessibility of a location is described using abbreviations such as NAW (not accessible by wheelchair), AWA (accessible with assistance inside), and DCT (diaper changing table).
Listings include the location’s phone number, town, and a few sentences elaborating on any accessibility issues or amenities. Although the guide mainly addresses wheelchair accessibility, it also includes advice for those with visual impairments and strollers.
Perry thinks Orange County is about as accessible as other counties. She hopes the guide “will let people know what is accessible and what isn’t so that people can better enjoy their visits to Orange County,” she said, and “let people know the nifty things that are happening for greater accessibility in Orange County.”
Paolicelli noted the guide is being released in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“This is a milestone year that we should all be aware of,” she said. “The Visitors Bureau is proud to be part of elevating the level of services we are providing people with disabilities by producing this guide [for] the area.”
Valarie Schwartz, a local writer, helped prepare the guide with Perry. She said that an accessibility guide is important because, “for people using assistive devices, whether it’s a wheelchair, crutches, or a walker, opening weighted doors into businesses and into the restrooms of venues can be a nightmare.”
For example, she explained: “Jst because a public restroom meets ADA standards does not mean that it will accommodate everybody – especially if there’s nobody to assist when a light switch is too high to be reached from a wheelchair, the soap dispenser is too far away, or the paper towels are too high.”
Schwartz says visiting the locations in the guide helped show the owners of the sites how they could make them more accessible. UNC in particular, she said, “was great to work with” because staff members fixed accessibility issues quickly.
“Until we experience diminished capacity ourselves, it’s very hard to have that perspective,” she said. “So it was heartening to find open-minded and accommodating business owners and managers.”