SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – It is difficult to make any city — much less a historical one like Savannah — accessible to people with disabilities. The mayor is making that priority number one for a new task force called Savannability.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson says the purpose of the initiative is “to listen, and we’re going to do what we can to improve the experience of people with different abilities in Savannah.”
Paul Rockwell, a Savannah resident who requires a wheelchair to get around, says he hopes to change dangerous infrastructure. He is one of more than 20 members of the task force.
“Getting around the city in a wheelchair is the most important… issue for me because that is what I deal with,” he said.
It is why Rockwell says he knows so many curbs in the city. He says several of them pose challenges to people in wheelchairs. If he hits those at a bad angle or at the wrong speed, it could flip his chair.
“It’s one of those things that just sort of makes you realize …the difference I can make in the city, even it’s just a mustard seed of something, even if it’s helping someone not fall on their face,” he said.
After his interview with WSAV Wednesday, Rockwell proved his point. He says the incline of a curb near Johnson Square made him flip over and hurt his hand.
In addition to fixing infrastructure, the task force wants to address transportation, education and employment issues. Many other members also struggle with accessibility.
“I think that is a critical difference in this task force versus anything that’s been done previously,” said Patti Lyons, the chairperson of the task force and the president of Senior Citizens Inc. “We have the people who are living in it involved and they are the ones that are guiding us.”
The mayor says Lyons’ team will be a permanent fixture in his administration. There is no immediate need for the group to make recommendations to the council. Right now, they are focusing on dividing into subcommittees and identifying which issues are most important.
“It’s really about listening and creating a partnership. When you have a relationship, when problems come up, you can address it,” said Mayor Johnson.