Access Planning Begins

Public Buildings Must Be Usable By Disabled

March 25, 1992|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

The county will be widening doorways and toilet stalls, creating handicapped parking spaces and hiring interpreters in the next three years to comply with a federal law that requires government buildings and services to be accessible to the disabled.

"It's a common-sense issue," said Kathy Sanner, assistant in school facilities for county public schools and a member of a committee working to develop a strategy for complying with the law.

The Americans With Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990, requires employers and governments to make "reasonable accommodations" for disabled citizens.

"All we want is to eliminate any possibility of discrimination," said Diane Massey, administrator of the county's job-training programs and another member of the committee.

Every member of the community should be able to participate in any activity, she added.

Timothy J. Atkinson, executive director of the Carroll CountyAssociation for Retarded Citizens Inc., said the county is "being very aggressive in seeking avenues and resources" to comply with the law.

"It is certainly an issue we're concerned about," he said. "It's very positive the county government is moving in the direction it is."

Director of Citizen Services Jolene G. Sullivan said the county budgeted $100,000 in the current fiscal year to comply with the law. Sullivan is heading the county's ADA committee.

An automatic door was installed at the main entrance of the County Office Building at225 N. Center St. in Westminster, and handicapped parking spaces anda small ramp were added in the parking area to make the building more accessible, she said.

Because the law is complicated and encompasses many buildings and services, the county has applied for a $50,000 federal grant that would pay the salary for one year for a full-time coordinator to oversee county and private sector efforts to comply.

The person would be charged with writing a how-to manual for complying with the law, Sullivan said. The county should know this summerwhether it will get the grant, she said.

The county's ADA committee -- with about 15 members -- was formed in September and has been working since to assess county buildings and services, Sullivan said.

By July the committee must finish its assessment of about 39 county buildings and parks, and by next January, it must complete its review of services, she said.

By January 1995, the county must make the necessary changes so buildings and services are accessible to the disabled, she said.

The committee does not know yet how much the changes will cost, Sullivan said, adding, "It is going to be expensive."

While building renovations could be costly, not every change will be, Sanner said.

A class offered on the second floor of a building with no elevator could be moved to the first floor to be accessible, she said.

A paper and pencil could be kept handy at the information desk at the County Office Building for communicating with a hearing-impaired person, Sullivan said.

Massey said a table in her office wasn't the right height for a person in a wheelchair to use, so she bought a clipboard for $1.59 for the person to hold in his lap.

Many of the county's school buildings are accessible to the disabledbecause a 1973 federal law required them to be, Sanner said. But buildings built before then will need some work, she said. School officials are doing their own survey of buildings, she said.

A grievanceprocedure for someone with a complaint about accessibility has been written, Sullivan said.

A public hearing with the county commissioners will be scheduled for next October to get input on the committee's findings and recommendations, she said.

Businesses with more than 15 employees also are required to comply with ADA.

Carroll County Bank & Trust Co. has formed a task force and hired a college intern to analyze changes the bank will have to make, Senior Vice President Lee Primm said.

It's a challenge for the bank, but also an opportunity to hire more people with disabilities, he said.

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