Town Halls Must Accommodate All CARROLL COUNTY

June 11, 1993

A number of Carroll County municipalities find themselves paying unexpected sums in order to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. There has been some grumbling about the spending, but most complaints have been muted, as they should.

For years, disabled people have not had the same access to public buildings and services has have the able-bodied. Even though they may require wheelchairs to get around, use their fingertips to read Braille or require dogs to guide them, handicapped people have the same right to attend meetings, to visit public offices and to review public records as any other citizen. Too often, their needs were ignored. The disabilities act forces the rest of us to confront this situation.

The town of Hampstead has set aside $13,200 to pay for changes so that town offices and the town meeting room will comply with the law. The city of Westminster is adding an $87,000 elevator to its new police headquarters so that the disabled will have access to both floors.

When roads are resurfaced in Carroll County towns, curb cuts will have to be installed at all the corners. Some towns must review job descriptions to ensure they are not improperly excluding the handicapped.

Such sensitivities are long overdue.

Nevertheless, at a time when municipal budgets are strapped, some people -- naturally, people without physical handicaps -- feel such expenditures are frivolous.

While no government agency is checking for compliance with the ADA, towns that ignore the provisions do so at their own peril. Disabled citizens can use the law to sue governments. In the long run, litigation is probably more costly than compliance. Also, volunteer labor and materials have been used to build wheelchair ramps and paths, reducing the costs to towns.

While building ramps, widening doors and installing special fixtures in public restrooms costs money, careful planning can lessen the expense of removing obstacles for the handicapped. Municipal officials should make sure meetings are held in rooms and buildings that are accessible.

Plans for future construction must recognize the needs of all residents. Many of the costly changes being made today won't be necessary in the future.

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