Northwest Colorado Center for Independence examines accessibility issues | CraigDailyPress.com

Northwest Colorado Center for Independence examines accessibility issues

Organization works with local group to improve conditions

Michael Neary

Micheal Bertram, direct service supervisor for the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence, works in his office in Craig.

— This past July, Micheal Bertram began working out of an office in Craig, and he started noticing things about the local community that were tougher to perceive when his office was in Steamboat Springs.

Bertram works as direct service supervisor for the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence. It's an organization that, according to its website, helps people of all ages who have disabilities by "removing barriers that limit their access to an independent and fulfilling life." The organization serves Routt, Moffat, Summit, Rio Blanco and Grand counties.

The location of Bertram's office, located at 50 College Drive, means Craig residents are closer to help than they used to be.

"It puts me in the community," Bertram said of his Craig office, "so I'm here and more readily available if someone calls me up and needs something to happen quickly. And since I'm here in town I catch word about more of the stuff that's happening around town."

The Northwest Colorado Center for Independence has been serving Craig for the past several years, Bertram said, and lately the center has been working closely with a local group called Freedom from Isolation.

One day about a year ago, Bertram received a call from Kathy Carlton, of Craig, who expressed concern about accessibility and safety issues in the area. Soon, with some help from the Center for Independence, Carlton and several others began the new Freedom from Isolation group. Carlton explained that people who use wheelchairs, walkers and canes — along with people who have vision problems — are among the group's members.

Recommended Stories For You

Carlton, who uses a wheelchair, mentioned some things that can make it hard for her to get around in the city.

"I'm afraid to cross the main street, and in a lot of places there isn't a crosswalk," she said. "You have to just kind of wing it and hope you don't get hit. In a lot of places there's no sidewalk, and you have to go out in the street. That can be pretty scary in busy traffic."

Last May, members of Freedom from Isolation, in conjunction with the Center for Independence, toured some businesses in the city, beginning with Centennial Mall and making a loop that included the area of City Market.

Stores, Bertram said, received stickers that said "accessibility friendly" if they had solid accessibility and if staff members were receptive to talking about the issue.

Bertram said most of the stores are in "pretty good" shape, and he added: "Most of the difficulties we ran into were sidewalk and route-related."

"It's definitely worth mentioning that the city has been great," Bertram added, noting that officials such as City Manager Jim Ferree have been engaged in the discussion about accessibility.

The next step for both groups will take place next week. Members of the Center for Independence and of Freedom from Isolation, along with Ferree and Karen Brown, president of the Craig Downtown Business Association, are planning to check out snow removal and accessibility in places such as sidewalks and street crossings along Yampa Avenue. The effort will begin at 10 a.m. on Thursday, at the Community Budget Center, and it's slated to last until about noon, Bertram said. Anyone who wants to come along is welcome, he added.

Brown is also manager of the Community Budget Center.

Carlton noted, too, some other kinds of steps people in the community could take to reach out to those who may have some difficulty getting around, or who may use unfamiliar equipment.

"These people are not scary," she said. "People shouldn't stare at them because they look funny or they look different."

She said she notices children, or sometimes adults, staring at the oxygen she uses to help her breathe.

"I would prefer that they come up and talk to me, and I can show them how it works so they aren't scared," she said.

It's not only strangers she encourages. Carlton recalled, several years ago, showing her granddaughter how her oxygen equipment worked. Her granddaughter was about 8 years old at the time.

"She kept staring at me, and finally I asked her what was up," Carlton explained. "She said, 'What is that?' and she pointed to my oxygen. I said, 'That's how I breathe,' and I showed her how it worked. She was kind of shy, but she was happy to learn about it."

Those with questions about accessibility in Craig can call Bertram at 970-756-4521.