Political parties flunk disabilities test Area headquarters found lacking in access for disabled

September 09, 1992|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Democrats and Republicans congratulated each other after last year's passage and signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It's too bad neither party is practicing the law at its state and local headquarters buildings, says a Hampstead handicapped-rights advocate.

"This is the only law in recent history that Democrats and Republicans claim as their own," said Marilyn Phillips, a Morgan State University folklore professor who uses a wheelchair. "And look, they're both in violation of the law."

The act requires all buildings that accommodate the public to be accessible to wheelchair users. Access means that the person in the wheelchair doesn't have to ask for help to get into the HTC building, use the bathroom or get around the building.

According to Ms. Phillips, who lives in a sprawling log cabin in the hills around Hampstead, the local Democratic Party headquarters at 7 W. Main St. in Westminster is easy enough to get into.

But using the bathroom is another matter. She said she was told she could probably use the restrooms at the Winchester Exchange next door.

"That's not access, that's separate but equal treatment," Ms. Phillips said. "You wouldn't send an African-American to a separate restroom. You wouldn't send a Jew to a different restroom. People with handicaps have rights, too."

Gregory Pecoraro, executive director of the state Democratic Party and a prominent Carroll County Democratic leader, said he recognizes the lack of an accessible bathroom at both the Westminster location and at the party's Annapolis headquarters.

"We haven't been as sensitive as we should be," Mr. Pecoraro said last week. "There's no doubt that the Democratic Party throughout Maryland is looking into following not only the letter of ADA but also the spirit of the law."

Ms. Phillips, who often files for mal grievances with the state Human Relations Commission -- most recently against Western Maryland College and the Carroll County Law Library -- has declined to file complaints against the parties.

"They both tell me the situation is temporary, and that they will look to remedy it," she said. She has written a letter to the state central committee -- Mr. Pecoraro has read it -- warning that she will file a complaint if access is not provided.

While she was unable to reach anyone on the Carroll County Republican Central Committee to ask about the accessibility of their local headquarters, the 97 W. Main St. site has no ramp access to either the front or rear door. And leading up to each of those doors are steps. The ADA requires at least one ramped, level entrance into a public building.

Attempts to reach all seven of the local Republican committee's officers were unsuccessful last week.

Ms. Phillips said the party's Annapolis headquarters -- on the top floor of a four-story office building -- is not completely accessible.

Kevin Igoe, executive director of the state Republican Party, said that while his fourth-floor office does not have an accessible restroom, there is one on the building's third floor. And he said the building does have an elevator.

"We have all kinds of people who come into this building," he said. "They don't seem to have any problems getting around."

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