Teen's Advocacy May Lead To Law Change
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 29, 2003
LAURENS, IOWA--Many Iowans with disabilities may soon have 14-year-old Bryce Wiley to thank for helping to clear up a state law that had made it illegal for some to operate wheelchairs on city streets or even on sidewalks.
Wiley, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a motorized wheelchair, was arrested by Laurens Police in early October for riding in the streets of the small town, population of about 1,500. The police chief told him he would have to pay a $15 fine and stay on the sidewalks from then on.
Wiley and his family learned that while Iowa law does prohibit "personal transport vehicles" from traveling on streets and highways, it also prohibits people under age 16 from operating "electric personal assistance mobility devices" on sidewalks.
Wiley protested the law and city's action and took his case to the public.
According to the Des Moines Register, the teenager's case sparked outrage among disability rights advocates across the country. Others pointed out that local authorities were violating the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act because the sidewalks in the town have no curb cuts.
In late October, the town worked out an agreement under which Wiley could 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.
State Rep. Lisa Heddens, an Ames Democrat, said last week that the Iowa Legislature wanted to keep youths with motorized scooters -- not wheelchairs -- off the sidewalks. She has drafted a bill that would clarify the law, so it would not be misinterpreted by local law enforcement agencies again.
"It's incumbent on us, as legislators, to . . . fix an error so that this doesn't happen again," Heddens said.
Monica Fischer, spokesperson to Governor Tom Vilsack said the governor would support such a change.