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Newburyport woman pushes for improved accessibility

Daily News of Newburyport - 9/4/2018

Sept. 04--NEWBURYPORT -- Sophie Korpics -- an intern at The Arc of Greater Haverhill-Newburyport who uses a wheelchair -- has been advocating for a handicapped parking space for the offices on Winter Street. One year later, her project has come to fruition.

She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 2 years old. Now a junior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Korpics is studying political science with a goal of earning her master's degree in public policy.

Someday, Korpics said she hopes to develop policy for people with disabilities, however, she's already hit the ground running on advocacy projects in her hometown of Newburyport.

Korpics, who is also an intern for state Rep. James Kelcourse of Amesbury, began working in August 2017 on creating a handicapped space for The Arc, located at the corner of Merrimac and Winter streets.

Since the road is part of the state highway, she had to contact the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and make her case in front of the department's civil rights group.

There are no curb cuts on Winter Street, said Korpics, who noted the difficulty for her to be dropped off at The Arc.

"We tried contacting the city and they said they couldn't help us because that area falls under the jurisdiction of the state because it's near a state highway," she said.

From interning with Kelcourse, Korpics was able to get in touch with MassDOT. When she returned for another year of interning at The Arc this summer, Korpics sent a letter to the state department.

But the department said it couldn't help her. Not giving up, Korpics took her case to the next level -- the Massachusetts Statehouse.

"I ended up going all the way down to the Statehouse in Boston and talking with a representative from MassDOT's office of civil rights," she said. "I argued my case there and it's been a couple weeks now and they've done something."

As part of arguing her case, Korpics shot a video of her traveling from The Arc to the boardwalk to document the challenges she faces when traveling alone in her power chair without a curb cut.

"It gave them a visual for how difficult it can be," said Andrea Morris, education and outreach manager at The Arc, who worked with Korpics on her advocacy project.

Transportation brought Korpics to The Arc, said Morris, who noted a van would need to double park on Winter Street for her to be dropped off.

From the top of Washington Street, Korpics needed to travel down Winter Street where the curb cut is at the corner of Merrimac Street, posing a potentially dangerous situation.

"They put a handicap spot, which is unheard of on a state highway," Morris said. "She advocated for a place to either have her dad drop her off or the van drop her off. They ended up doing something a little more unique. This is open street parking, it's a one-way street. What she accomplished was pretty incredible not just for her, but for those that need to access our building."

Korpics agreed, noting there is now a spot not only designated for those in wheelchairs but creating equal access for those with walkers, parents with strollers, or those with an injury.

"My most basic argument was that if The Arc is an office that tries to help people with disabilities, it should be common sense that they would be accessible," Korpics said. "My other argument is it wouldn't just help people with disabilities."

Last week, she was able to see the result of her hard work.

At the corner of Winter and Merrimac streets stands a handicapped sign that reads "van accessible."

A bright blue spot is painted on the asphalt along with a "loading zone" space for handicapped-accessible vans to be able to drop off people such as Korpics who need access to the offices on Winter Street.

"Sophie is an independent young woman and she doesn't want to have to rely on people to get her around," Kelcourse said. "She wants to get around herself."

This isn't her first effort when it comes to advocacy work.

A few summers ago, the Newburyport woman made a case for the sidewalks in her neighborhood, which she said were falling apart and inaccessible to those who use wheelchairs. Korpics attended a City Council meeting to pitch for universally accessible sidewalks and shadowed Councilor Bob Cronin in her neighborhood.

"The councilmen were so impressed that actually the next day, the mayor of Newburyport was in my neighborhood inspecting the streets so now we have brand new sidewalks," Korpics said. "They're still working on them, but they're so much better than they used to be."

Although Korpics is returning for her junior year of college, she is hoping others will be able to use the space. In addition, she is planning to return to her internships with the state representative and at The Arc next summer.

For information on The Arc, visit http://www.thearcofghn.org/web/

Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.

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(c)2018 The Daily News of Newburyport (Newburyport, Mass.)

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