Our communities step up time and again to help out those in a crisis, from the loss of a home in a house fire to assistance with expenses from outrageous medical costs. The urgency in those needs encourages motivation and drives our responses, so it’s understandable that we can overlook just as pressing of needs when they’re much less dramatic and much more long term.

For those with disabilities, a rural area can be a difficult place to navigate as the resources and infrastructure is not present, consistent from place to place, or even readily available. For example, for those dependent on someone else to drive, their mobility independence can be further limited by insufficient sidewalks or cumbersome building entryways. The Free Press was contacted by a Harpster man a few months ago, who discussed such concerns in affecting his ability to do his shopping in Grangeville, and on the need for awareness to address better amenities for those with disabilities.

What percentage of Idaho County is considered disabled? The U.S. Census listed an average of 14.9 percent (between 2012-2016), with a disability, who were younger than 65. This figure includes six aspects of disability: hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, and independent living. Taking these into account, how well could someone with one or more of these issues navigate through your neighborhood to the store or a city park?

A good exercise is to try that route yourself, on foot, and with an eye for how someone would manage who is blind (no pun intended) or using a wheelchair or walker. Many of us won’t face those issues, but much more likely we’ll be in our senior years with reduced mobility (and a few more aches and pains) where steps and uneven surfaces will provide challenges that years prior they were hopped across without a second thought.

Federal law through the Americans With Disabilities Act requires access be provided for public and commercial facilities, protections in employment, in allowing for service animals and in communication. As always, more can be done beyond the letter of the law. One such example is Asker’s Harvest Foods that recently provided an electric shopping cart for its customers. Not every business is able to do this, but other opportunities exist to better accommodate shopping spaces and access for their customers with disabilities.

Bettering our communities can take many forms, whether it’s a spring cleanup week, supporting a food bank or promoting a civic recreation project. Those looking for their way to give back for the blessings they’ve received could look toward projects, services or offerings that allow our neighbors with disabilities – through age, illness or injury – to continue accessing their communities and preserve a measure of independence.

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