A sign at the entrance to one of the buildings on the rebuilt Fairgrounds Nashville property Credit: Nashville Banner photo

Joy Andal is looking for candidates who will make Nashville easier to roll.

As the city has grown rapidly over the past decade, much of the Metro’s infrastructure and services have struggled to keep up. Just about every mayoral forum this election season has touched on transit and affordable housing as two of the main issues — crisis even — facing Nashvilliains. And while these issues might be at the top of mind for most Nashvillians, for Andal, who started using a wheelchair three years ago and was advocating for the disabled for years before that, these issues are inflamed by a city seemingly developed for able-bodied individuals. 

“My disability is not my tragedy. The man-made obstructions are,” says Andal. 

An inconvenience to an able-bodied individual, or even something as simple as a single step, can be the difference between accessible affordable housing and inaccessible housing. The push for better sidewalks has been gaining momentum, but for someone like Andal, a good sidewalk isn’t just a convenience or a luxury — it’s a necessity. Accessible sidewalks can mean anything from making sure the sidewalk is wide enough that the wheelchair ramp can lower, to ensure that scooters are not haphazardly strewn across the path, seriously hindering someone’s ability to get around. 

“You have to get out of your car,” says District 17 Coucilmember Colby Sledge. “You have to walk your district and start realizing how many obstacles there are to people who are able-bodied for one, people who might not have any other issue navigating. There are plenty of obstacles for those folks alone, and then start thinking ‘Okay, how would I get through this sidewalk if I were in a chair?’”

Andal lives in District 17. Years before she was in a wheelchair, she knew her health condition would eventually lead to her needing accessible options. With that in mind, she found a home she could afford, with an accessible nearby bus stop on one of the more frequent lines. Her situation isn’t perfect, but it allows her to get around the city relatively well. She says District 17 is one of the best places for accessibility in the city.

“Councilmember Sledge has been very approachable concerning new development accessibility and effectively supporting improvements with what already exists,” says Andal. Through open lines of communication between her, metro councilmembers and department heads, Andal has been able to advocate for her community to be more accessible — not just to her, but to those with other physical and mental disabilities as well. One of the most prominent examples is the fairgrounds. 

A few years back, when the fairgrounds were being redeveloped with a new soccer stadium and space for the flea market, Andal reached out to Metro to say that while she was excited about the changes, she had some accessibility concerns. This resulted in what Sledge called “one of the more remarkable Metro meetings I’ve ever been a part of.” 

“We walked to the whole fairground site with her,” says Sledge. “And we had, I bet, a half dozen or more departments down there taking notes, listening to her, making marks on where things needed to go.”

The result was what Andal says is one of the single most accessible areas of the city. While there is still ongoing construction that can cause obstruction, Andal says she has been thrilled to explore the fairgrounds as projects have been completed, discovering areas she didn’t even know existed due to them once being inaccessible. 

“We just need to have these departments communicating and realizing that every choice they’re making individually actually has a ramification that you’re probably not thinking about,” says District 16 Councilmember Ginny Welsch. She says that conversations with Andal greatly impacted how she thinks about developments and infrastructure improvements around the city. 

But while some projects have made the city better for those with disabilities, there is still a lot of work to do. The city’s major pikes can be unpleasant and dangerous even for someone who doesn’t have any physical disabilities. For someone who does, navigating Nashville’s most traveled streets — with messy sidewalks that end suddenly and vehicles constantly pulling in and out of parking lots — becomes a life-threatening endeavor. On a pike near where Andal lives, it’s not uncommon for vehicles to park and block the sidewalk, or for pedestrians to be forced to walk in the bike lane, or even the shoulder of the road. 

“People tell me to roll in the bike lanes but that could be someone’s death sentence,” says Andal. 

“We have a tracker for all the ADA compliance issues across the city and you can’t read the map there are so many,” says Sledge. He says it will be important for councilmembers to be intentional with securing funding for accessibility services and projects such as WeGo Access and better sidewalks. “In my mind, it’s almost entirely budget based.”

Through communication with Sledge and Welsch, Andal has been able to bring more awareness to accessibility issues. With Sledge being term-limited, she hopes his successor will follow in his steps to advocate for more accessible infrastructure and citywide she is hoping for more intentionality in fixing the accessibility issues presented by a rapidly developing city.

But despite the city’s overwhelming accessibility needs, the topic of accessibility has for the most part been ignored on the campaign trail. During a forum focused on older adults at FiftyForward early in election season, accessibility was briefly touched on. Outside of that, candidates have spent little time addressing the topic. 

“The future mayor must protect pedestrians, cyclists and our diverse disabled population’s safety,” says Andal.