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City wheelchair traveler forced into road by curbs

June 01, 2003
Frank Mulligan, Gazette City Editor
Taunton, MA

Daniel Mattos once drove a truck for Hallsmith-Sysco.

Now the 60-year-old East Taunton man drives his Jazzy 1100 motorized wheelchair over some of the same streets, forced off the sidewalks because curb-cut access is routinely lacking throughout the city.

Mattos has suffered from multiple sclerosis since the mid 1960s, but went into remission. "I defeated it," he said during a rolling interview as he made his way up Dean Street, Route 44.

Several years ago, though, he suffered a stroke, which put him in the $6,000 power chair.

Twice a week he catches a GATRA bus in East Taunton to downtown, and gets dropped off at the Robert Treat Paine statue across from City Hall. Then he travels up Dean Street in a 30 or so minute journey to Health-South Braintree Rehabilitation Center at 152 Dean St.

Most of the journey he makes on the north side of Route 44, against traffic on the way toward the facility, with the traffic flow on his return trip. He moves to the street because once he gets on Dean Street, heís soon confronted by the lack of curb cuts.

While the Jazzy is capable of speeds up to 45 mph, according to a company Web site, it cannot leap over 5-inch granite curbs. Mattos can bypass the curbs by going down side streets until he comes to a driveway and then use it to cross the street. The drawback here is that he generally has to cross over grassy, tangled, overgrown patches between street and sidewalk to get back onto the sidewalk and the chair can get stuck.

He prefers taking to the streets.

"Iíd rather be out in the street," he said, joking that four-wheel drive was needed to travel over the tangled scrubby bypass route.

Mattos finished up therapy sessions last week, but will begin attending again in September, he said. Though he has contacted public officials repeatedly, he knows the curb-cut situation wonít be changing.

"Theyíve got no money. I canít blame them."

Kevin Scanlon, the cityís Americans with Disabilities coordinator, agrees. "Itís all a money issue. If I was given $100,000, I could have it spent by tomorrow."

The problem "plagues every city and town in the country," he said. As new subdivisions are developed and old routes reconstructed the ADA work gets done. Meanwhile, though, miles and miles of sidewalks and streets await the money for reconstruction and remain out of code.

"Weíre making some progress, but not as much as I would like," Scanlon said.

Mattos lacks peripheral vision in both eyes, he said, and has trouble remembering the names of streets and once-familiar travel routes since his stroke.

Still, the streets donít scare him.

"People treat me pretty good. They know Iíve got a problem. On a beautiful day like today," he said during the recent interview as he proceeded down the street, "I can go out and get some air."

As he progressed up Dean Street, a blue van spotted Mattos and backed up on Ashland Street to allow him to cross the street. Mattos waved to the driver.

Itís the drivers who donít see Mattos who pose problems.

"I have trouble with people who donít see me. I see them, but they donít see me."

One driver pulling out of a parking lot on High Street almost rolled over him one day. "I had to hit the hood of the car," he said. The driver was apologetic, blurting out, "Oh, I didnít see you," Mattos said.

In a second instance, a car pulled so close to Mattos, its fender went beneath the control stick on the right of the chair he uses to steer. The apology was about the same, "Oh, Iím sorry. I didnít see you."

On the whole, though, "people are considerate to me," he said, as he returned to the statue of Robert Treat Paine, crossing over to the bus station in front of the police station to catch a ride back to East Taunton.

Of his rolling interview, Mattos said, "I just want people to see whatís it like."

Copyright © The Taunton Gazette 2003