Many cities around the nation have strove to be more accessible and disability friendly for their residents and visitors. Yorkville, Ill., in Kendall County, for example, has gone the extra mile in allowing golf cart usage for people with disabilities. With a simple amendment to its city code, people with disabilities can now legally drive golf carts on city streets and sidewalks, according to the Sept. 28, Kendall County NOW newspaper.
Beyond golf carts, cities are also addressing basic Americans with Disabilities Act components — everything from creating entrance ramps and making an accessible side entrance to widening doorways, increasing the size of restrooms and switching out doorknobs for doorhandles. Some are also streamlining communications with sign language interpreters; making materials in alternative formats, such as Braille, large print or audio cassettes; and providing text telephone services so the deaf have equal access to city services and 911 systems.
Seward, Neb., is applying for a Community Development Block Grant Downtown Revitalization Grant that will allow it to undertake a facade improvement and commercial rehabilitation project. As those would be federally funded projects, they would need to meet all federal guidelines and requirements for ADA.
“The city is very aggressive about ADA compliance, and we are noted as a model ADA community,” said City Administrator Greg Butcher. “We look to expand facilities (that) are highly travelled like downtown sidewalks. Our downtown plan looks to install bumpouts, which would significantly reduce crossing distances and times for all users thus increasing safety.
He added, “All park facilities, including our municipal pool, are ADA compliant. The only major ADA project we are currently undertaking is the reconstruction of our civic center, which serves a number of clients and organizations as well as housing our economic development/chamber to commerce organization. The building is ADA accessible on two entrances, but due to the nature of the construction decades ago, there is no clear level path through the building. We are finalizing construction and engineering and looking to go out for bid in the coming year.”
Mayor Joshua Eickmeier agreed. “The city of Seward looks to continue to be a model city when it comes to ADA compliance. Our citizens understand the importance of accessibility not only for our community, but also the thousands who visit every year.”
Seward is not alone in this endeavor with a 13 percent growth from 2015 to 2016 in bids and requests for proposals for ADA-related services, according to Onvia’s “10 Hotspots in Government Contracting for 2017.” It also noted that the top states for serving those with disabilities bids and RFPs include California, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Texas, New Jersey and Michigan.
“Onvia’s B2GIS systems confirms that cities (45 percent) are by far the largest buyer of ADA services from contractors, followed by state agencies (25 percent), counties (14 percent), school districts (8 percent), and special purpose districts (7 percent),” the report says.
ADA compliancy is definitely something that should be on all cities’ radars, rather than assuming the “grandfather” clause protects them because that might not be the case. Josie Byzek, managing editor of the United Spinal Association and of New Mobility Magazine, which is based in Kew Gardens, N.Y., keeps up with ADA current news and shared some questions that cities should ask themselves in regards to compliancy:
- Are the city’s curbs cut and are they easy to use and well-maintained?
- Are the sidewalks and cuts well-maintained, including outside of the business districts?
- Are there good accessible parking policies — longer meter times, for example — and are accessible meters at the right height?
- Is there plentiful and easy-to-navigate accessible public transportation?
- Are there accessible entertainment venues? Theatres, stadiums, museums, parks and other places?
- How about the eateries? Can wheelchair users get in? Navigate between tables? Use the bathroom? Sit with their friends, or are their friends perched on those high stools?
- And how is that region’s housing stock? Are there enough no-step-entranced houses that are move-in ready? Or will residents be forced to shell out for expensive home modifications? Can people visit their neighbors or is their house an accessible island?
- If people are living in subsidized housing, are these places integrated with non-disabled people? People of all ages? Are these housing options located in a wheelable community or would residents have to drive or catch a bus to get to a local store?
City websites are another key component necessary for a disability-friendly community, particularly as cities offers more services and information through them. Many people use assistive technology to use computers and access the internet, and websites that do not consider these technologies can create barriers for people with disabilities.
The ADA website states, “One example of a barrier would be a photograph of mayor on a town website with no text identifying it. Because screen readers cannot interpret images unless there is text associated with it, a blind person would have no way of knowing whether the image is an unidentified photo or logo, artwork, a link to another page, or something else. Simply adding a line of simple hidden computer code to label the photograph ‘Photograph of Mayor Jane Smith’ will allow the blind user to make sense of the image.”
Websites can be the first impression a person develops in regards to a municipality. If a website is inaccessible to those with disabilities, it could deter visitors or potential new residents; it also creates frustration for current residents. To further online accessibility, the ADA has compiled a toolkit for state and local government websites, which is available at www.ada.gov/websites2.htm.
While structural and other accessibility-related changes can go a long way toward creating a welcoming environment for residents and visitors of all kinds, sometimes a shift in thinking is required among city employees across all departments. This includes affirming individuals with disabilities by employing all-inclusive language — putting emphasis on the person rather than on the disability. With these changes, your city and its people are put in the position of welcoming as well as educating all residents and all visitors equally. Or, in the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”