Activist For Disabled Access Brushes Aside Others' Rights

Confrontational Phillips Ignores Economic, Structural Realities

September 15, 1991|By Richard L. Anderson Guest columnist

Having just read Jean Marbella's article about Marilynn Phillips in The Sunday Sun and Phillips' recent guest column in The Carroll County Sun (July 21), I feel compelled to reply.

There is no question that people with disabilities should be able to enjoy a full, rich anddiversified life. There were too many years when too little action was taken to make accommodations suitable for effortless access, but new buildings and those with major remodeling are now made accessible by law.

Phillips has limited her protests to old existing structures where complying with access codes is very difficult.

I am quite aware of the barriers that buildings can cause. As a retired architect I amalso aware that the costs of overcoming all of those barriers are much higher than Phillips will concede.

In Marbella's article and inPhillips' guest column headlined, "Access for the disabled: It's easy, cheap and it's the law," she brushes off cost as minimal. She cites only two examples of "cheap" renovations. One is a hinge that will make a doorway wide enough for a wheelchair if it is only 2 inches too narrow. The other is a ramp that she built herself because she was unwilling to pay a craftsman a decent wage and the overhead and othercosts of being in business.

Most modifications are neither cheap nor easy. Millions of extra dollars were required to make Baltimore'ssubway fully accessible.

I can assure her that the extra space needed in a toilet room to make a toilet stall accessible to her are not minor. Not only must the stall be larger, with a special toilet fixture and special well-anchored handholds on stronger than usual partitions, but the door must open outward and the toilet room itself mustbe made larger to make room for the door swing.

All of those extra square feet cost the same as the other space in the toilet room. Ina new building, the space can be designed in from the beginning, butexisting buildings are much more difficult and it is much more expensive to make corrections.

In addition, the extra space added to the toilet room is space taken from income-producing areas. Toilet rooms are just one example. The cost of many other modifications, such asputting an elevator in a two- or three-story building that may otherwise not need one, are even more costly.

It is Phillips' "impression that most Carroll County businesses currently not accessible can easily and inexpensively comply with ADA requirements."

A normal, comfortable stair uses an 11-inch tread for each seven inches of rise.Steeper stairs use even less horizontal space. The steepest ramp suitable for a person in a wheelchair will require 70 inches of horizontal distance for every seven inches of rise, plus a six-foot flat areaat the top of the ramp if the entrance door swings out as building codes require in public buildings.

If your door sill is 2 feet above the sidewalk, the ramp needed to accommodate Phillips will be 26 feet long. Do you have that kind of space? Does she really consider such a ramp "easy and cheap"?

Do you have a vestibule so that bitter winter winds do not blow into your office? It is unlikely that Phillips will be able to go in the outer door and still have room to open the inner door. Where will you find the room to double the depth of the vestibule?

This example also is true in some toilet rooms. Taxesare based on total building value, including the extra costs for making special provisions for various handicaps. The extra costs do not stop at construction but continue for the life of the building.

There are many different kinds and degrees of disability, and the necessary modifications for one handicap will not be the same modificationneeded for another and may actually cause a problem for some.

I wear trifocals and curb cuts required for her wheelchair have caused me to stumble when I expected to step up or down. Blind people need Braille notations on elevator buttons and directional signs and a change of floor surface to warn of some change in condition that may be hazardous; deaf people need warning lights instead of bells to warn of danger; persons who are mobile but are not in full control of their muscles need sure footing but with surfaces that are not too rough.

Although designers of buildings are doing as much as possible, thereis always some disability that will not be adequately addressed. Notevery handicap is even known about until someone who has it brings it to public attention.

In Marbella's article, she is quoted as saying that the Arts Council had "plenty of time to comply," and that may or may not be true regarding the central office, but the Arts Council is much more than just a downtown office building.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.