What prevents me from making more of the Adirondacks accessible.
By Jason Thurston
Over the course of 13 years I owned a total of four vans that were able to accommodate my power wheelchair. One of these vans was outfitted for me to drive. I purchased it with an inheritance from my grandmother in 2016. It took some time to get it on the road, for me to get my learners permit, and to be evaluated to determine whether my level of function as a quadriplegic was enough to safely drive.
By January 2018 I had enough practice to take my drivers test and get my license. My van was due for inspection and after many other repairs was discovered to have a frame that was beyond repair. My hope of driving independently was diminished. If not for the rust, I would be driving it today. It sits in my yard, fully functional other than the frame. They use excessive salt on the roads to melt the snow and ice. Salt is corrosive and causes vehicles to rust.
The first van I had was given to me. It was older and only lasted a year before rust made it unsafe. The second van that I had, I purchased for $500, with added investments totaling another $500 it was ready for the road. This was not a van that I could drive but one that other people could drive me in and enable me to go places. Once again I investing another two thousand dollars, eventually the frame was rusted. The most recent van I purchased was for $1000 and once again after investing more money, once again the frame eventually was rusted.
I became an Adirondack resident when I started at Paul Smith’s college in 1991. I had always wanted to be a chef and proceeded to work in various aspects of food service up till my diving accident in 2004. In a little over a year, I was invited to be on the advisory board for the Tri Lakes Center for Independent Living. First as a board member, and then hired in the spring of 2006. One of our initial goals was to make the Tri Lakes more accessible for residents and tourists like.
By November of 2006 I gave a presentation to the Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce outlining our plan for the Tourism The Accessibility project. The goal was to evaluate restaurants and eventually hotels in the area and determine what was accessible.
By 2019 I was hired as Outreach Coordinator for John Dillon Park, an accessible campground designed for people with disabilities and free to the public. In 2020 I became chairman of the Accessibility Advisory Committee for the DEC and the APA. This has led me to be involved with the New York State Trails Council, the Forest Preserve Advisory Committee, and an Adirondack Rail Trail Stakeholder, representing accessibility and people with disabilities.
Due to Covid, it was easy for me to attend these meetings over zoom. Now that Covid restrictions are being lifted everywhere, a lot of these meetings are taking place in person. There are also many field trips to accessible projects throughout the DEC lands that highlight expanding opportunities in the outdoors for people with disabilities.
Currently, I do not have a vehicle that will accommodate my power wheelchair. If I had a van that I could drive, I would be able to make a major impact on accessibility issues for tourists and residents alike in the tri lakes, in the Adirondacks, and throughout New York State.
It is my life‘s mission to make it possible for people disabilities to have adventures and experience our most beautiful outdoor spaces. With a van that I could drive, I would be able to travel in all directions to make this a possibility. My friends and family have partnered with an organization called Help Hope Live. This is a not-for-profit organization that allows fundraising for such things. The advantages are the donations are tax deductible and money raised does not affect my benefits. To learn more go to https://helphopelive.org/campaign/20339/
Great! I hope many others visit your fund source page and you get your vehicle soon!!
Once you are done fighting for improved access for all, perhaps consider fighting excessive use of road salt!! As you know, people who can least afford replacing vehicles because of rustworm fall between a rock and a hard place.