RALEIGH, N.C. — Ashley Thomas lives an active life, and her work encourages others to do the same.
What You Need To Know
Lake Crabtree Park has a dock that is accessible for people with physical disabilities
Ashley Thomas says the state has a long way to go in making parks accessible
She started an organization that creates athletic opportunities for people with disabilities
Thomas is the founder of Bridge II Sports, an organization that creates athletic opportunities for people with disabilities.
Thomas is a kayaker and was a key part in transforming the Lake Crabtree Park dock area into an accessible one.
Before there were obstacles to Thomas, who uses a wheelchair, and now there are concrete paths, wider gangways and accessible gear.
“It’s freedom. It’s finding a 'yes' in a world full of 'nos' and 'you can’t,'” Thomas said. “It is, it is being able to say ‘today I’m going to kayak, and I don’t have to depend on somebody else.'”
Thomas says it benefits everyone who uses the park — families, able-bodied people, and people with disabilities — because when areas are accessible to the most disabled, they’re accessible to all.
The process began in 2010 but wasn’t quick or easy at times.
“Sadly I had to file a DOJ complaint, and I did, and I had all my documentation, and within three months they said this park was not in compliance,” Thomas said.
North Carolina has a list of outdoor areas that are accessible.
Thomas says there’s a lot more work, however, that needs to be done in parks across the state.
Just down the road in Lake Crabtree Park, large roots, rocky paths and concrete blocks form barriers to people accessing the water.
“I think it’s one of the most disheartening things ever. There’s a sense of which it makes you feel worthless. It makes you feel you’re not part of a community. It makes you feel misunderstood,” Thomas said.
Thomas says she pays taxes just like everyone else, and the state should start conversations with people with disabilities who have the experience and know what needs to happen to make the areas accessible.
“A lot of good works were done that need to be fixed, and I appreciate all those kind-hearted people, but we really need to get people in who understand what it means to create access,” Thomas said.