What happens to a community member that cannot physically be a member of the community?
George “Mac” McIntire hopes the Greenbrier Valley will bring to ask this very question.
McIntire is a local to the Greenbrier Valley, often seen patrolling sidewalks on his motorized wheelchair in White Sulphur Springs and Lewisburg. As he became aware of how many small barriers often stand between people with mobility problems and day to day life, he set out to make changes to benefit the entire community, pointing to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a guide.
“First understand that 10% of West Virginia’s population is on some kind of a disability, and that includes an awful lot of people … in a wheelchair like me. You don’t really see a lot of those people because a lot of the buildings are inaccessible. Let’s say Uncle Joe’s in a wheelchair, and you live out in Williamsburg. One night, the family wants to go in and go to dinner at some restaurant, and they want to take Uncle Joe. They get there, they wheel man on the wheelchair, and … it requires some effort. Maybe while he’s there, he’s got to go to the bathroom, and … the bathroom may or may not be ADA accessible. After a bad experience, Uncle Joe the next time they asked him, says no, just bring me back something. What has happened [is] tons of people that would love to be out and be a part of the community can’t or won’t do it, because of the hassle of it.”
Take this one example and multiply it by thousands – this population is who McIntire is looking to help.
In 2020, McIntire became the ADA compliance officer for White Sulphur Springs. During the January council meeting, he spoke on a recent experience. While in the hospital, he was unable to find someone to trim his fingernails, something he could not to do because of a lack of finger strength. After going from person to person with a pair of trimmers, he found someone willing to make the cuts. Shortly after though, he found a trimmer with an alternate design requiring less strength. As a result, he can now do it himself. He told this story as a metaphor, explaining how making the little changes benefit him, allowing him to do things on his own, and relieving him of the need to ask for help in the first place.
How can this idea be generalized to the entire Greenbrier Valley? McIntire, though looking for ADA compliance, also hopes to take a step beyond just the minimum legal requirements. He asks businesses in the process of remodeling or designing a new building to allow him a chance for input before moving forward with construction.
As an example, McIntire mentioned the Schoolhouse Hotel as a business that got in touch as they were in the design phase.
“[Charlie Hammerman] is putting that building together to make it as ADA compliant as any building in America is. He’s got all kinds of special steps that turn into ramps and all kinds of things that he’s doing. He’s almost at a stage where he’s ready for me to come over and ride around and go through the building and see what I think.”
Downtown Lewisburg is one place McIntire cited that has made some of the accommodations helping people get around. However, there is more he would like to see there.
“I roll around Lewisburg every now and then. They’ve done a beautiful job. City Hall does have an accessible door, an accessible bathroom. Most of the places in Lewisburg, I can get in and out of in my chair, they’re not perfect. I would like to see some of the businesses, if they can’t install a handicap door or [a] ramp, they can at least put a button out there. If you’re a handicapped person, or you need some assistance getting in the building, you could at least push a button … to let somebody know that there’s someone at their front door that can use some assistance.”
Even being open when there is less foot traffic can be a boon.
“There really are literally thousands of West Virginians, just waiting to get out of their house to be able to go somewhere. If you go to Food Lion or one of the shopping centers very early in the morning, handicapped people will come in or be brought in by someone and they’ll do their shopping … before it gets crowded, because they just don’t want to deal with crowds.”
His hope for the area is to become a place of healing and tourism combined.
“What I’m hoping is that eventually, because of West Virginia’s need to be ADA compliant, and the sheer amount of people … that are like me, [with] some kind of spinal cord injury, or laid up in the chair, and the fact that we are the central location for the entire east coast, that a place like The Greenbrier might someday become a mecca for people like me. … The Greenbrier already has a medical center, and across the road, they’ve got this huge training and rehabilitation facility. You could have people come in and stay at the Greenbrier for a few months with their loved one, get treatment … during the day, and while they’re recovering, maybe they’re getting some of their mobility back, they’d be able to go downtown on great sidewalks, go in and out of businesses.”
In the meantime, he continues to bring reports to the White Sulphur Springs City Council and to the owners of buildings he has concerns about.
“We are an aging population,” McIntire said. “If we don’t start accommodating and fixing this for ourselves, sooner or later, we’re going to have a bunch of people on our hands that got nowhere to pee. It’s just the honest to God truth.”