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Missoula doing better on accessibility, but still work to do

(MISSOULA)- A new report from the University of Montana says more than 40% of Missoula businesses are readily accessible to people in wheelchairs or with other mobility challenges. But at least a quarter of the businesses surveyed are still “impossible or difficult to access.”

Those are just some of the findings of the new report that’s just been published by UM’s Rural Institute researchers.

The study analyzed nine different factors to gauge access, from city and private parking location and signage, to doorways and how easy it was to access most of a businesses’ interior. Over 300 businesses were checked.

The study gives Missoula businesses an overall grade of “B” for accessibility. However, some locations like Southgate Mall were given an “A” grade, as were some of the larger retail stores that have been constructed in recent years.

In fact, the study’s authors suggest accessibility in Missoula has actually improved because of the recent growth and development in recent years, with new stores and businesses built to current accessibility standards.

However, work remains to be done.

The report says many businesses are still difficult to enter. Sidewalks and parking spaces maintained by the city didn’t score as well as ones controlled by private businesses. The study noted much of the city parking is on the street, making it difficult for people to exit wheelchair-equipped vans.

“Missoula businesses should be congratulated for their efforts to make themselves accessible to people with disabilities,” said Tom Seekins of the Rural Institute. “Missoula could improve its grade most easily by providing or increasing the number of signed and designated parking spaces near businesses. A potentially more difficult step would involve improving the safety of downtown routes to businesses where individuals may be exposed to dangers such as needing to go out into the street while on route to a business.”

The study, which can be read here, was completed on the 21st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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