LIHU‘E — Candidates vying for one of seven seats on the Kaua‘i County Council participated in a virtual forum discussing policy and topics specifically geared toward the disabled community Thursday night.
The program was sponsored by the Kaua‘i Developmental Disabilities Council, Self Advocacy and Advisory Council and Children with Special Health Needs Program. Kaua‘i program specialist Amelia Kyewich-Kaneholani moderated the event, in which 10 of the 14 candidates running for council participated.
Incumbent Councilmember Luke Evslin, who is running for his second term, shared his experience losing the use of his legs for a few months from a paddling accident about a decade ago.
“It was a totally life-changing experience for a lot of ways, you know, but one of them was also just having a teeny little glimmer of what life could be like if I was wheelchair-bound or otherwise disabled,” Evslin said. “A 6-inch curb could be the same as a 6-foot wall.”
This experience, he said, taught him what it’s like to be isolated, and has informed his own policymaking.
“I felt kind of trapped in my own body and trapped in my own house, and how dependent I was on others for so much, especially social activity,” he said.
“And for me going forward, and a lot of my work on the county council has been on trying to work with our zoning codes to try and create more complete communities to ensure that people can live close to where they work and close to access to services and just as importantly close to access to social activities, you know, parks and public spaces.”
Candidate the Rev. Jade Wai‘ale‘ale Battad suggested proposing a member of the Planning Commission to represent the disabled community.
An issue those with developmental and intellectual disabilities face is access to doctors.
“I know vividly the problems that are happening,” Wai‘ale‘ale Battad said. “My husband can’t get access to doctors.”
Her husband is currently disabled, as he was injured at work four years ago. Currently, they’re struggling with telehealth programs and not being able to access doctors in Honolulu due to the pandemic, she said.
“I think that we need to get together with the local community, the medical community, and talk about what we can do,” Wai‘ale‘ale Battad said. “I think we need to have doctors, specialists, dentists, all of the special doctors that we need to come in so that we can coordinate care for all of our intellectually, individuals with disabilities that need doctor’s care.”
Candidate Wally Nishimura, who has a health-care background, said there are opportunities to bring “essential needs” to the community, including mental-health services. He understands the “challenges with our access to public areas,” since he is a volunteer for beach outings and other activities.
“I’d like to support public and private partnerships to perhaps create and implement a county of Kaua‘i recreational-therapy program to serve our community and people with needs,” Nishimura suggested.
Candidate Dr. Addison Bulosan said there are some big challenges ahead, and among those is sanitization and keeping public facilities clean.
“One of the biggest opportunities we have as a council is looking at how we point our dollars towards supporting our community,” Bulosan said.
The pandemic, according to former Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., has “hampered” a lot of services. He said the county needs to focus on advocating needs to be done in housing, employment, recreation and transportation. Carvalho has long been lauded as expanding the transportation services on the island.
Carvalho said this is a good time to work with the county Transportation Agency to assure pick-up and drop-off times.
Mason Chock, who has been on the council since 2013, said expanding access to the beaches is important, too, which would be enhancing and building access with paving to the shoreline.
“Easily is looking at the parking lot and how we manage our parking lots,” Chock said.
Recently, the council funded a study to look at how to better manage parking lots. But it’s all about planning and zoning, Chock suggested.
“I see a huge amount of need when it starts from the planning aspect, but also moves into how it is we can create hubs to support those in need,” Chock said. “I think that can be embedded in all of our services at the county level.”
Felicia Cowden, running for her second term, is the current chair of the council Public Safety and Human Services Committee. During the pandemic, she has put a “deep amount of focus” on the emergency sheltering, she said.
“I see especially mental illness is one of the things that needs the most attention,” she said. And part of that, she said, is the loss of identification cards.
“When we don’t have an identification card, we can’t even have access to the medications that help people have their own stability,” Cowden explained.
“So I think training that helps all of our community and certainly our staff and anybody in these areas to understand the challenges that people have. The people who have disabilities oftentimes are the most impacted by rough treatment.”
Billy DeCosta, who is a special-education-certified teacher, said he has worked with many children through his time in Waimea. A part of his platform highlights the benefits of farm living, and DeCosta suggested expanding those programs to be more accessible.
“I believe right now in our Lihu‘e town center area, how we restructure in our living area with businesses and apartments and having the facilities right there in close proximity where you guys can either be on walking distance or wheelchair distance and all amenities, it’s right there,” DeCosta said.
Ed Justus, who owns Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe, echoed the idea of more accessible communities. He noted that lights on crosswalks are essential to this, too.
“We have all of our existing communities here that don’t have that same freedom of access,” Justus said. “I think it would be nice to be able to put in some sidewalks that can be used by folks that would be in the main thoroughfares of the main areas of the communities. And I think that would probably help a lot.”
The event included 10 of the 14 candidates running for council. Not participating were Richard Fukushima, Arryl Kaneshiro, KipuKai Kuali‘i and Shirley Simbre-Medeiros.
The Office of the County Clerk Elections Division is asking residents who plan to vote by mail to drop their ballots into the post by Tuesday, Oct. 27, or utilize a drop-off box at a local fire station, certain neighborhood centers or the Pi‘ikoi Building or Historic County Building annex.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.