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Archive for Sunday, September 2, 2007

Quadriplegic mayor works for accessibility

September 2, 2007

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Tongy mayor hoping to make town more accessible to the disabled

He holds the most powerful seat in town, only his seat happens to be a wheelchair. Using his unique perspective as a quadriplegic, Tonganoxie mayor Mike Vestal is on a mission to make his town more accessible to people with disabilities. Enlarge video

He holds the most powerful seat in town, and that seat happens to be a wheelchair.

With his perspective as a quadriplegic, Tonganoxie Mayor Mike Vestal said his town could be more accessible to people with disabilities.

"You really don't understand the problems, day-to-day, disabled people have," Vestal said. "I don't think people notice that until you actually have somebody in a political position that needs that type of service."

Most recently, city staff added an electric door-opener to council chambers to make the building wheelchair-accessible.

"It wasn't just for me but for anyone who wants to come to council meetings who is in a wheelchair," Vestal said.

Downtown Tonganoxie and many of the city's subdivisions have sidewalk curb-cuts, but Vestal said some places in town were still lacking. He pushed for an aggressive street improvement project, slated for 2008, which includes plans to create curb-cuts in the city's older areas.

Mike Yanez, the city's administrator, said Vestal's point of view was a contribution to fellow city leaders.

"Certainly, (he) called attention to everybody to be more sensitive to handicap access accommodations in business and how we conduct projects," Yanez said.

In the 1990s, Vestal was on the city council. Back then, there was no ramp for him to get in and out of City Hall for meetings, so he would drive his van up to the door and lower himself onto the steps where council members would lift him over the stairs. City Hall now has a wheelchair-accessible ramp.

"He's never asked for anything," Yanez said. "I've been attempting to work with him objectively."

Vestal, who was elected in April, said holding public office has been a rewarding experience and would encourage others like him to do the same.

"I'm doing my level best to see our citizens get good services," he said.

Vestal's disability is the result of a car accident in 1970 when he was a cadet sheriff's officer for the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Department. His car hit another and flipped on a Tonganoxie road. He was transported to the hospital without a spinal board or neck brace and spent six months at Kansas University Medical Center.

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