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Ridge Waters

Ridge Waters park in Butte. 

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted Butte’s Ridge Waters and Stodden parks on its website for International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The highlight started by noting one-quarter of adults in Butte-Silver Bow County are limited physically, mentally or emotionally in some way, according to the county’s 2017 health needs assessment. More text detailed Butte-Silver Bow’s efforts to create more inclusive recreation for its residents with disabilities, and a video  showed what these efforts looked like.

One clip showed a local woman in a wheelchair sharing her personal perspective.

“If the sidewalk is too narrow, I will have to go out in the street in traffic,” Alice DoShane said in the video. “Once I think Butte people are educated, they are behind trying to make things more accessible for everyone.”

For the past three years, Butte-Silver Bow County officials have worked closely with the CDC and its partners to focus on just that: including the needs of all county residents in its decision-making, specifically related to health and recreation.

“If we’re working to make Butte healthier, we want to include people with disabilities in all of our thinking so our community is healthier for all of us,” said Karen Sullivan, the county’s public health officer.

About three years ago, Butte was one of 10 communities across five states chosen for the Reaching People with Disabilities through Healthy Communities project, headed by the CDC and National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. Helena was also chosen for the project, which provides funding to help communities promote disability inclusion strategies and make healthier choices easier for everyone.

Sullivan and Todd Hoar, the county’s developmental disability services director and Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, helped apply for the project. The duo brought Butte-Silver Bow into the project around the same time county voters approved the bond that funded Ridge Waters, the county conducted its 20-year transportation plan update and money was donated to improve Stodden Park.

Creating accessible recreation features and making decisions with disabled people in mind for these initiatives quickly became the Butte project's focus.

“The project grant gave us the opportunity to have teeth and time to work directly on projects our community won’t see for another 20 years,” Hoar said.

As highlighted by the CDC, Hoar and Sullivan have worked with J.P. Gallagher to successfully achieve a zero entry, or entry with no ledges or steps, to Ridge Waters, along with other features that make the water park accessible to people with all abilities. The Stodden Park improvements will allow kids with all physical abilities access to every play feature, Gallagher said. And now there are plans to improve sidewalks, public transportation and roadways in Butte-Silver Bow so everyone can easily enjoy them.

“Butte has a lot of parks, so trying to make them all ADA accessible is a challenge, but it’s something we need to work toward,” Gallagher said.

The CDC recognition of Butte’s efforts made Gallagher, Hoar and Sullivan feel good, they expressed. Gallagher said it shows Butte is progressively adapting to the needs of all its citizens, Hoar said it makes him feel like Butte is “on the up and up,” and Sullivan said it makes her feel prideful.

“The improvements through the playground and pool have made life better for people,” Sullivan said. “Not only should they be important to the mother of a disabled child, but to all of us because at some point in our life, all of us will have a disability.”

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