SEATTLE - A long-time King County Prosecutor’s Office employee is fighting for accessibility.
Lori Bridgewater is a paralegal working in the Homicide and Violent Crimes unit. She recently suffered a stroke and now uses a wheelchair.
She said the life-changing experience led her to realize the struggles many people who are disabled face every day when trying to access the courthouse.
One challenge – some sidewalks in the Pioneer Square area are often blocked by homeless residents, forcing her into traffic.
Now she’s sharing her story to help push businesses and the city to become more ADA compliant.
Bridgewater commutes to the King County Courthouse every day from Rochester, catching a train from Lakewood.
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“The Sounder train drops me off at King Street Station,” she said.
But after a sudden stroke at age 49 last year, she's had to re-learn how to do everything.
“The whole right side was completely paralyzed,” Bridgewater said.
Now she uses a wheelchair and faces the daily challenges of someone with a disability.
“It’s been very different,” she said. “I thought I was considerate before and now I'm like oh wow – there are things I would do where I just wasn't thinking,” Bridgewater said.
She showed KIRO 7 the last part of her route.
Some the sidewalks are not options because of steep grades where tree roots have pushed up the sidewalk.
“They filled it in but still that grade flips my chair back, it's just too steep,” Bridgewater said.
Situations like that, plus hills, it means there is just one path she can take into work, via 4th and Yesler.
“This is where I go through and a lot of people sleep here and put their tents up, today isn't too bad,” Bridgewater said.
Other days she's been forced into traffic.
“When the tents are very large and they go all the way to the sidewalk,” Bridgewater said.
It was easy to find example just a couple of blocks away.
We followed a #KingCounty paralegal as she showed us daily challenges w/ her #commute. She’s in a wheelchair after a sudden stroke last year.— Deedee Sun (@DeedeeKIRO7) December 15, 2018
One struggle? When encampments totally block the sidewalk and force her into traffic. #ADA #disability #awareness #6pm @KIRO7Seattle pic.twitter.com/fAc5xj0BIJ
“It’s frustrating when you're trying to get to work and somebody crawls out of their tent and goes poop right next to the tent on the sidewalk,” Bridgewater said.
On Friday at the courthouse, the ADA door push plate wasn't working.
Bridgewater tried it several times, before asking a stranger for help.
Inside, Bridgewater opens doors that she can with her foot.
Otherwise, she has to ask for help or wait for someone to go through first. When exiting the courthouse, someone from the sheriff’s office has to open the door for her because of the way the door opens.
She says the King County Prosecutor’s Office went above and beyond to help her return to work, with people taking on her responsibilities and donating vacation days.
“When they came together, when I had my stroke,” she said with emotion in her voice. “They’re good people,” she said.
Her gratitude coworkers and love for her job is clear.
But with the daily challenges she continues to face, she wants to raise awareness.
“It’s not very wheelchair friendly, the city isn't,” she said.
And she’s not just talking about the sidewalks. She says people frequently don't see her – for instance, bump into her while they have headphones in and are looking at their phone.
Now, she's asking you to open your eyes.
“Being aware, I think that's a start,” Bridgewater said. “But I think the city needs to work on it a little harder, how people have accessibility in this community,” she said.
The city is working on becoming more ADA compliant.
SDOT says it prioritizes accessibility improvements to walk ways.
You can make an ADA request for sidewalk fixes as well as find route options on the city’s website here.
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