Breaking the Barrier: Bringing disability awareness to town

Most people in Kaunakakai probably do not notice that the painted stripes of crosswalks are raised thickly from the street. They may not think too much about the front of their car reaching over the sidewalk when they park. But an awareness activity last Friday aimed to shed light on barriers that people with disabilities face as they try to make it around town independently.

The activity, an effort by Hawaii Centers for Independent Living (HCIL) and Home Pumehana, paired community leaders with people with disabilities and assigned them a route through Kaunakakai. Molokai High School Athletics Director Hokulani Haliniak took a power scooter through town and expressed the fear she felt as she tried to navigate and stay balanced.

“There were a lot of obstacles, and a lot of situations to go through,” she said. “It opened my awareness.”

Event organizer Tania Joao of HCIL said awareness was the purpose of the exercise, which involved five community members who would share their experiences with people they knew.

“This is a soft approach to making the community aware one step at a time,” she said, noting how orgaanizers didn’t want to be forceful in the education.

Joao added that she didn’t do any pre-event publicity besides inviting the participants because she did not want to have any part of the routes staged; she did not want any special treatment. Instead, participants saw the routes as they appear on an average day to people with disabilities.

After going through their routes, the participants and mentors met together at Home Pumehana to discuss what they experienced. They expressed struggle to cross the street from the Fish and Dive to the state buildings, to get into buildings with doors that only open in one direction, and to stay on crosswalks when the stripes are raised or limited ramp access.

“I experienced rudeness,” Haliniak said. “This is Molokai; you don’t expect that. But people looked at us like it was our fault we were in the wheelchair.”

She said she would inform the students she knows about her experiences and encourage them to be thoughtful as they walk or drive around town and encounter people with disabilities.

Home Pumehana resident Linda Lidell mentored Haliniak through her accessibility activity. She said she has been in a wheelchair for 19 years and sees a need for repairs to sidewalks and crosswalks.

“Our wheels are our feet, so we are pedestrians,” she said. “Therefore we have the right away in the crosswalk. Also, I’d like to see people leave more space on the sidewalk when they park their car.”

Joao said the event was not just about addressing problem areas in town or informing drivers of more courteous practices.

“For the community with disabilities, it was about a sense of hope that we can remove the barriers and stigmas associated with disabilities,” she said. “It’s about independence.”

The accessibility awareness activity preceded the Senior and Disability Fair that will be Thursday, May 9 from 9 a.m.  to 1 p.m. The fair is a collaboration between HCIL and Home Pumehana. This is the first year that the Senior and Disability fairs have taken place together in one event. Joao said the two events draw many of the same vendors and participants, so she decided to combine them into one day this year.

Joao said there will be more than 30 vendors at the event as different programs bring information about their services.


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