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Not so easy to do: N.O. streets hard to handle, so imagine doing so in a wheelchair

An advocate challenged city councilmember Helena Moreno to get around the city in a wheelchair. Here's what she found.

NEW ORLEANS — Navigating New Orleans is hard enough as it is. The streets are riddled with potholes and uneven sidewalks can sneak up on you. So, imagine if you were getting around in a wheelchair. 

Mark Raymond Jr., CEO of The Split Second Foundation, showed City councilmember Helena Moreno what it's like on Thursday.

“I had a spinal cord injury that propelled me into this life, and this experience, this campaign, “Roll with Me” is about expanding other people’s understanding," he said. 

Raymond advocates for accessibility and inclusivity. That's why he asks city leaders such as Moreno to sit down in a wheelchair and view the world from a new perspective.

“I knew that I wanted to talk policy changes with you, and I thought this was a really out-of-the-box way to get this done, but it wasn’t until you actually showed up with the chair today that then I started to get like a little bit nervous," Moreno said. 

First, Raymond taught Moreno the basics of how to operate a wheelchair. Despite the tips, she still struggled making it on the elevator and out of City Hall. 

Moreno said she's never used a wheelchair and before she crossed the first city street, she was pointing out the difficulties she noticed. 

“Man, all these broken sidewalks man," Moreno said. 

As the two rolled into Duncan Plaza, they discussed ways to improve accessibility in New Orleans. 

One of Raymond's top priorities is accessible transportation. He sits on the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) New Orleans Board of Commissioners. He worked to get two ADA compliant streetcars on the Historic St. Charles line. 

“As you know, to try and fix every single street, I don’t want to say it’s impossible, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon, you know," Moreno said to Raymond, "But what we can do is really push for a transit system to be able to get everyone around wherever they need to go.”  

As they navigated about 1.5 city blocks in downtown New Orleans, they noticed a closed sidewalk. Something Raymond said can negatively impact his day.

“It’s like all these other things are really important too but what about everyday living for people with disabilities?” Moreno said. 

As they traveled back to City Hall, they hit a few roadblocks and judging by Moreno's reactions, she may have felt them. 

“She might need an ice bath later today everybody," Raymond joked. 

At one point, Moreno asked for a push.

"I got stuck," Moreno said. 

Not to mention, they had to think about traffic, unlevel ground, debris and crossing roads with and without crossing signs. 

Moreno said the experience was eye opening. 

“This was one of the biggest learning experiences I’ve had in a really long time," Moreno said. 

Moreno said she saw a few ways the City Council could help improve accessibility. Specifically, for transportation, streets, sidewalks and construction areas. 

“Mission accomplished," Raymond said. 

Moreno also challenged Councilmember Lesli Harris to roll with Raymond and Eyewitness News Reporter Lily Cummings. 

"Challenge accepted," Cummings said. 

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