Denver man makes a big change for disabled riders

DENVER-- Sometimes all it takes to fix a problem is raising your voice at the right time. One man in Denver found a way to do that even though he has a voice that most can't understand.

John Barr of Denver has cerebral palsy and uses a powered wheelchair to get around.

He utters vocalizations that are slow and incomprehensible to the average person, but his caretaker of 23 year Loren Schultz can interpret most of what John says.

To talk to other people, Barr also keeps a sheet of printed words and letters he can point to.

9NEWS joined Barr on Thursday at Union Station, where he got his first look at the new train that will run to Denver International airport.

Barr helped redesign the inside of the train cars.

"That's a new one," Barr said.

The train cars went on display in an open house this week.

When Barr boarded he quickly noticed the improvements he inspired.

Back in 2011, RTD created a mock-up of the train interior so riders could give feedback and Barr struggled with the bench seat that can be raised to make room for a wheelchair.

"To clear the space, he wedged his upper arm below it and sort of lunged backwards very quickly and the seat went up about [a foot] and flopped down," said Kevin Flynn, a spokesperson for RTD Denver.

It quickly became clear that Barr would need help he can't easily ask for.

The train manufacturer redesigned the seat itself, installing pistons to raise the seat automatically whenever a passenger stands to make room for a passenger using a wheelchair.

John also struggled with the standard windscreen near the door, which RTD ordered shortened by a foot more than required under the Americans with Disabilities Act, making it easier to enter and exit the wheelchair ares.

The improvements cost about $500,000 across the entire fleet of heavy rail trains RTD is purchasing for its multiple new lines, Flynn told 9NEWS.

It's a fraction of one percent of the cost of the train cars, which totals about $300 million.

The agency points out it will benefit everybody using the train by preventing delays when passengers using wheelchairs board.

Taking in all the design changes, John Barr asked for his placard of words and pointed to three: This. Is. Good.

Asked what these improvements mean for people like him, Barr replied, "independence."

It's a feeling of independence he wants others to enjoy as well.

"I am lucky I am the way I am," Barr said, asking Schultz to help explain what he means.

Shultz said Barr feels lucky for the abilities he does have: to understand and be an advocate, because others aren't able to express themselves at all.

John Barr demonstrates that even if you hardly have a voice, you can make it heard.

And in so doing, make a change.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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