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Fund launched for wheelchair user killed on roadway calls out lacking ADA infrastructure

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“A person in a wheelchair might have to crawl over steps to get into places like an Atlanta dog park”

A picture of a cracked sidewalk.
Atlanta has miles to go before it becomes truly inviting for people who use wheelchairs.
Sean Keenan, Curbed Atlanta

Four years ago, an Atlanta-based musician was killed in a collision while attempting to ride his wheelchair from here to Savannah—a daunting 302-mile journey meant to bring attention to the infrastructure inhibiting handicap accessibility.

On May 20, 2015, Frank Barham, then 59, was struck by the van trailing him during his roving protest, after it had been rear-ended by a tractor-trailer.

In a tragic irony, Barham had been confined to a wheelchair since 1980, when, at age 24, he was hit by a car.

He later became an advocate for handicap accessibility in Atlanta and beyond, participating in protests calling out agencies like MARTA for being difficult to access from a wheelchair.

“He had a lot of trouble [getting around Atlanta],” his wife Adriana Barham tells Curbed Atlanta. “A person in a wheelchair might have to crawl over steps to get into places like a dog park.”

During Frank’s trip toward Savannah—on the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s creation—he distributed literature about the charity he’d founded, Wheel 2 Live, which raised money to buy wheelchairs for people who couldn’t afford them.

On Monday, his friends and family launched a scholarship fund in his name. It’s meant to help musicians with disabilities take classes at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, where the fundraising kickoff was held.

The creation of the scholarship also aims to remind Atlantans and Georgians of the largely unsatisfactory state of wheelchair infrastructure near and far.

The issue hasn’t been totally ignored, as initiatives are underway to upgrade transportation infrastructure for pedestrians and wheelchair users.

In January, Midtown leaders and Atlanta officials celebrated spending nearly $1 million on sidewalk repairs and improvements, thanks to funds from the Renew Atlanta-TSPLOST programs and the Midtown Improvement District.

And this week, crews are beginning to upgrade a mile’s worth of sidewalks on Buckhead’s Northside Drive, according to Reporter Newspapers.

Still, wheelchair users are not afforded nearly the same accessibility options as most other Atlantans.

Last June, a group of wheelchair users sued the City of Atlanta, alleging the city’s walkway infrastructure violates ADA code.

Pedestrian advocacy group PEDS, which supported the wheelchair users’ lawsuit, claims “the estimated cost of repairing broken sidewalks and curb ramps exceeds $1 billion.”

But more improvements could be on the way.

Renew Atlanta general manager Josh Rowan recently tweeted that he had traveled around the city with a wheelchair user. “Very stressful,” he wrote.

And now that the Renew Atlanta and TSPLOST project lists have been finalized, progress on some crucial fixes should be on the horizon.