Can Homer be more accessible?

On my way to the late Homer Farmers Market today, I met a couple of first-time visitors to Homer. Now we all agree that where we live is an amazingly beautiful place. On a sunny day we all love sharing that spectacular view of Kachemak Bay from the top of Baycrest Hill. We all love returning from the drive to Anchorage to that same view. Undeniably knock-your-socks-off gorgeous! But these two particular visitors were blind. They weren’t impressed with the view.

Used to flat land and city sidewalks, what impressed this couple at that moment was the difficulty of getting where they wanted to go on foot, under their own steam, just like everybody else. They had the added obstacles of not really knowing where they were going, not having stoplights to regulate traffic for them at street intersections,* not having a sidewalk on their side of the street and not knowing there was one on the other side.

The ground underfoot was uneven, irregularly rocky, sloped with deep ditches. A daunting task to surmount when all they really wanted to do in the remaining hour before their departure was to touch native Alaska artwork, bone, ivory and furs. They wanted to TOUCH. Of course they did! But who lets you touch? I never thought about what are uniquely Alaskan things from the perspective of touch.

All they wanted were touch memories to take home. Eventually these two ended up in a place where they wanted to be, but our encounter left me with a lot to think about. That’s for sure. Seeing another way of being in the world reminded me of what I take for granted. It reminded me to be more aware and more patient, more respectful and kinder. Much much kinder. And I am left to ponder what I want Homer to be.

I want us to be so much more than a small town with a beautiful view. What can we offer those visitors and residents with visual and other difficulties to make their lives richer? Can we create spaces that address all of our senses for a truly Alaskan experience? How can we make our community more accessible to everyone? How can we be more inclusive? Most importantly, what can I do? Every single day I must ask myself that.

*Which reminds me, next time we have our annual discussion of roundabouts vs. traffic lights, can we please talk about it from the pedestrian point of view?

Katherine George is a retired librarian. She wrote this opinion piece in August 2012 and sent it to the Homer Chamber of Commerce with the idea of making Homer more handicapped accessible. Last week, she resent it to Homer City Council member David Lewis in support of his resolution 17-075, “A resolution of the City Council of Homer, Alaska, committing to continual work towards becoming a city that is universally accessible to all.” The resolution passed 4-2.

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