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News & Press: General News

Oregon's Blazing a Trail to Make Democracy More Accessible to Everyone

Wednesday, June 14, 2017   (0 Comments)

By Darrin Umbarger
Disability Rights Oregon

The idea came to mind a couple of years ago.

One of my biggest fears as a wheelchair user is being out and about and having my batteries run dead.

Not only does this affect me, it affects friends and family who are with me. If I need to leave a location to charge, then they need to leave, too.

As an entrepreneur, I set to solving the problem, and developed a mobility device charging station.

The stations are equipped with a standard power cord and a basic charging unit.  Most people who use high-end wheelchairs and need special chargers, carry those chargers with them. They would only need the power cord to connect their charger.

What began as a pilot project in Pendleton to install charging stations soon spread into something much larger.

Last week, Oregon became the first statehouse in the country to install wheelchair charging station. I worked with State Senator Bill Hansell (R-Pendleton) and Senate President Peter Courtney to make this happen.

Oregonians who use power wheelchairs will no longer have to worry that they will end up stranded without power when they meet with state lawmakers and their staff, attend hearings at the capitol or join in an event. I couldn't be prouder that we helped make our democracy more accessible.

The idea is quickly spreading beyond the our borders to other states. I'm hoping to get them into federal buildings. 

There are no limits to the areas that could be outfitted with the stations. Any spot from parks, shopping malls, and zoos to grocery stores, fairs, libraries, and medical facilities. Anywhere that people gather, explore the world around them, access services would benefit from these devices. 

For people with disabilities, these stations serve an obviously practical function, but also signify broader goals that we're continually reaching for: freedom, independence, and deeper integration into our communities.

No one should be shut out from engaging in the democratic process because their mobility device isn't supported. If other public and private spaces follow the Statehouse's lead, we'll create richer, more inclusive communities and make it possible for more people to engage with the world around them.

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