by Ellie Heffernan, writing for the “When All Are Counted” Project

Quin Devry often uses an electric wheelchair to get around the Moundsville area. Sometimes, if he’s traveling a short distance, he can walk with a cane. But the facility where he receives regular treatment for a mental health condition is roughly a mile away. He has to use his wheelchair to get there, and doing so can be outright dangerous. 

“There are no sidewalks for me to get up on. There’s no ramps. I was driving along the side of the sidewalk in the road, and I actually had a cop pull me over,” Devry said. “He gave me a warning and told me that I should stay out of the road. I told him, ‘What do you want me to do? I can’t levitate. I can’t get up there.’” 

Devry said the police officer responded by telling him to take back roads. These are typically gravelly and even harder to traverse.

Experiences like Devry’s are not uncommon for people with disabilities, both in West Virginia and the country at large. On paper, the law says that shouldn’t be the case. The landmark Americans with Disabilities Act requires that most places of public accommodation, government services, and transportation be accessible. But the sheer scope of the problem—the sheer number of spaces that are not accessible for people with disabilities—makes it difficult to enforce the law. 

“The law requires compliance, but like anything, some individuals may drive 95 on the interstate when the speed limit is 70. So it’s a matter of enforcement,” said Mike Folio, legal director for Disability Rights of West Virginia. “And I think with our country and our state, being as large and diverse as it is, there’s just not enough enforcement mechanisms to oversee compliance at every location.” 

And when it comes to data, there’s also very little information to help decision-makers truly assess the scope of the problem. There aren’t any statistics quantifying how many of the state’s houses, public spaces, and sidewalks are inaccessible. There aren’t any statistics quantifying how many West Virginians with disabilities are still in need of accessible housing. 

Even if someone finds accessible housing, they’ll often face other barriers. For Devry’s neighbor, Zachariah Garrison, few things are worse than a snowy day. If the sidewalks aren’t plowed, it’s virtually impossible for him to get around town. The wheels of his mobility scooter get stuck in the snow. 

“If it snows, they expect homeowners to plow their snow. And if they don’t, we don’t get to do anything,” Garrison said. “Sometimes the city will plow the snow onto the sidewalk. So then we can’t go anywhere.” 

Photo by Zachariah Garrison-- the sidewalk conditions he has to deal with while using his mobility scooter.

Like Devry, Garrison has dealt with a slew of accessibility issues while traveling around town: sidewalks without ramps, “Road Work Ahead” signs blocking their path, and crosswalk signal buttons that don’t work. 

Garrison also said certain intersection designs are particularly dangerous for people with disabilities. 

“There was a time I was trying to cross one spot. And this guy was going right on red, and he wasn’t looking where he was turning to,” Garrison said. “And he just drove and hit me. He took the wheel off my scooter.”

Luckily, the man who hit Garrison drove to a nearby lot, parked his car, and helped fix the scooter. But events like this are all too common. 

Devry has experienced many as well. 

“When you’re crossing the road, and there’s no one coming, and then suddenly there’s someone there—they act like you’re not there,” Devry said. “They act like they’re king of the road. I’m the one in a slow wheelchair.” 

Even the accessible public housing building where Devry and Garrison both live has its limitations. The building has ramp access and elevators, buttons you can press to open doors, and bars near the showers and toilets. But Garrison’s apartment is still too small for him to easily turn his electric scooter. 

And other than this building, there’s virtually no accessible housing in the Moundsville area. 

“I really don’t know where I would go if I had to go somewhere else, to be honest,” Devry said. “Because there’s really no other places around here that have suitable spaces.”

When Devry first came to Moundsville, he was living in a “sleeping room,” an overpriced space where he shared a kitchen and bathroom with other people. Devry had little choice but to live there. He’d been homeless; he had a bad credit score; and the sleeping room was the first available option that would accept him. 

To reach his room, Devry had to painfully walk up a very steep staircase. 

“You had to use the railing to get up,” Devry said. “There was no way to use any of your mobile aids to get up, because it really felt like it was gonna fall in sometimes too. It was terrifying.”

West Virginians with disabilities don’t deserve to be put in these situations. But for things to change, decision-makers will have to start paying attention to the problem—and act on it. 

“They don’t have disabled people in mind because they don’t really care,” Garrison said. “Or it’s something that scares them. For everyone, it’s a high chance they’re eventually going to become disabled. But everyone kind of thinks like, ‘Oh that’s not going to happen to me.’ Like it’s a moral failure. So it’s just something they want to ignore and not accommodate.”

Ellie Heffernan a freelance writer drawn to investigating powerful people and the communities they often harm. Her work in newsrooms has taken her from Maryland to North Carolina to West Virginia, covering topics like city and state government, racial equity, education and disability rights. She has written for INDY Week, The Local Reporter, The Daily Record and, most recently, Mountain State Spotlight. Ellie tweets @elliepheffernan.


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content