City Agrees Teen Can Use Wheelchair In Streets
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
October 22, 2003
LAURENS, IOWA--Under an agreement reached with the town of Laurens, 14-year-old Bryce Wiley can operate his wheelchair on the streets, as long as he stays close to the curb, and equips his chair with a headlight and reflector so he can be seen at night..
The agreement was reached Tuesday with help from U.S. Senator Tom Harkin's staff. Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, was instrumental in gaining passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in Congress in 1990.
Wiley, who has muscular dystrophy, uses the motorized wheelchair to get around his hometown. Because the sidewalks have no curb cuts, he usually rides his wheelchair in the streets.
On the evening of October 5, Police Chief Rod Watkins nearly ran over Wiley with his patrol car. The officer told the teenager he would have to issue a $15 fine and told him to stay on the sidewalks.
It turns out that Iowa state law prohibits "personal transport vehicles" -- such as wheelchairs -- from traveling on streets and highways. State law also prohibits people under age 16 from operating "electric personal assistance mobility devices" -- such as electric wheelchairs -- on sidewalks. In other words, Bryce would practically need to stay home to avoid breaking state law.
But it also turns out that the city of about 1,500 is breaking federal law, by not making the sidewalks accessible to wheelchair users.
"If they aren't going to make sidewalks accessible, I don't see how anyone can fine people for using wheelchairs in the street," Kent Johnson, training coordinator for the Great Plains ADA and Information Technology Center, told the Des Moines Register.
State officials are now looking at ways to rewrite the laws so they will not conflict with each other or with federal law.