City Councilman Doesn't Get It CARROLL COUNTY

March 03, 1993

Westminster city officials are needlessly tying themselves in knots over the Americans with Disabilities Act. The issue is simple: Obey the law and stop the endless discussions of ways to evade the law's requirements.

Like many businesses and local governments, Westminster owns buildings that don't conform with the ADA, signed by former President Bush 2 1/2 years ago. The issue first arose locally over the remodeling of City Hall. With its public meeting room on the second floor, the building could not comply with the law unless an elevator was installed. Rather than incur such an expense, the city placed the public meeting room on the first floor, where it is fully accessible to the disabled.

The accessibility issue resurfaced this week in the City Council's discussion of the new police headquarters. Because the city is planning to renovate an existing structure, meeting the ADA will be more difficult -- and more costly -- than if the city were designing a new headquarters.

Because the building has at least two stories, an elevator will be required to comply with the law. Councilman Stephen R. Chapin argued against that because, as he pointed out, the police don't now employ any disabled people.

Mr. Chapin's remarks miss the mark. The law was written to ensure that all Americans -- regardless of their condition -- have access to public and commercial buildings. For a police building, this is very important. People in wheelchairs could be victims or witnesses to crimes and need access to interview rooms, line-ups, investigators or even the police chief. If the new police headquarters is to serve the public, it should be free of barriers.

While it is true that there are no disabled police employees today, that doesn't mean there may not be ones in the future. An active-duty officer could be shot and paralyzed. Instead of retiring, he or she could become a dispatcher or work at a desk dealing with paperwork. If the building doesn't comply with ADA, that potentially productive person would be unable to work.

Mr. Chapin complains that compliance "requires more taxing and spending." If those dollars enable just one disabled person to get into a building or a room in a public building that otherwise would be inaccessible, those dollars would be well spent.

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