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Ability Montana working for improved access to Butte buildings for those with disabilities

Posted at 11:14 AM, Dec 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-01 15:05:57-05

BUTTE — Historic buildings in Uptown Butte are starting to be used as more people open businesses in them, but many of them don’t have ramps or other ADA-required features to make them more accessible, and that’s leaving some people in the community with disabilities feel left out and unwelcome.

“Butte is a friendly town, except if you have a disability, then it’s not so friendly,” said Alice de Chelley who has XLH.

Taking a simple trip to a local restaurant or store can be difficult for those with mobility issues.

“When someone asks me to go somewhere or do something with them, the first thing I think about is, ‘How many stairs?’ Because every building has stairs and also, ‘Is there a handrail?’” said Michelle Lewis who has cerebral palsy.

Natalie Munden has multiple sclerosis, and it was a daunting task to climb the two front steps of the police department.

“I need to get in this building, so what do I need to do? So, I just started crawling up the stairs, there was no handrail,” said Munden.

It was only after she got into the building that she learned there was a handicapped access on the side of the building. A simple sign on the front would have saved her much trouble.

Ability Montana is working to convince building owners to improve access to their buildings by installing ramps, handrails, and signage that will help people with disabilities.

“Good access is good business; the more accessible your business is, the more everyone can come in, spend money. The more inclusive our community is, the better it is for everyone,” says Ability Montana Independent Living Specialist Cassie Wick.

The group also wants Butte-Silver Bow officials to make the permitting process easier for those businesses that want to install ramps to their storefronts.

Some say there’s a lack of understanding in the community of what people with disabilities have to go through.

“Everybody wants to turn a blind eye to it because, ‘Well, I don’t have to worry about it.’ It’s like, you know, at some point you will. Slip on that ice, break your leg and you’ll be going, ‘Oh my god, life got so much harder,’” said Barb Knapke who has partial paralysis.