Dorothy Y. Lewis
Rocky Mount Telegram
More than 32,000 Twin Counties residents are considered physically disabled, said Kim Stewart, a spokeswoman for the Independent Living Rehabilitation Program in Rocky Mount.
That's above the national average of about 19 percent of the population.
"According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 13,517 (24 percent) Edgecombe County residents were considered disabled," Stewart said. "In Nash County the number of disabled people for the same year was 18,778 (about 21 percent)."
The disabilities can range from Twin Counties residents having vision and hearing loss to being an amputee, said Tammy Longmire, the program's rehabilitation casework technician.
Longmire said the needs of disabled people in the area will be addressed during a State Plan for Independent Living meeting Monday at Edgecombe Community College in Rocky Mount.
Mildred Fox, 55, of Rocky Mount has multiple sclerosis which is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. She uses a wheelchair.
Despite improvements Twin Counties facilities have made to accommodate disabled residents in the past, much still needs to be done, said Fox, area representative for the N.C. Statewide Independent Living Council.
She said disabled people and their families will be able to voice their concerns at the meeting.
"Sometimes when I'm out, I feel I'm on a rollercoaster when I have to go down a wheelchair ramp," said Fox, who has used a wheelchair for about 11 years. "Some of the wheelchair ramps in the area are too steep. There are also some doors, even at medical facilities, that I cannot open because they are too heavy. Door entrances and store aisles in a lot of public places need to be widened."
Fox said many inexpensive changes can be made to help disabled residents.
"I know a lot of landlords and business owners may think making modifications will be costly, but that isn't necessarily the case," she said. "It is a false perception that modification will be expensive because it may just mean putting a rail in a bathroom."
The community should be concerned about helping disabled residents, she said.
"I just didn't become an advocate for people when I became disabled -- I've always been interested in social issues," said Fox, a former instructor at Edgecombe Community College, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1983.
Disabled people want to be independent like everyone else, she said.
"In order for disabled people to be more independent, we need more affordable housing that accommodates disabled people," Fox said. "We really lack that here."
The suggestions people give during the meeting may have an impact on the services available to the disabled in the Twin Counties, she said.
The meeting is 5 p.m. Monday at Edgecombe Community College in Rocky
Copyright © 2004, Rocky Mount Telegram