Crofton wants county advice on law

January 24, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

Crofton's special tax district has the will and the $8,000 to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It just hasn't figured out the way.

Community leaders say they would like to make their buildings accessible to the handicapped but that their requests to Annapolis for technical assistance have gone unanswered.

"There's been no follow-up in the county," said Town Manager Barbara K. Swann. "I've never gotten anybody to answer. I've been waiting for county guidance, but they've been very quiet."

Experts say Crofton's frustrations with implementing ADA reflect the nature of the law, which was written so that it could be applied widely.

"The law was designed with flexibility in mind, but sometimes that is perceived as ambiguity," said Timothy L. Jones, a Rockville management consultant who once was a project director for the ADA Watch, a group that monitored ADA issues.

"There is so much flexibility there is no check list," he said. "What the law is saying is that here is the outcome we want: Programs should be accessible to people of all kinds. The specific steps you take may be different in each case."

Marion S. Vessels, executive director of the Governor's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, agreed, saying, "It becomes a case-by-case basis. People would like a cookbook. But [the law] only offers a guideline."

ADA, which outlaws discrimination in employment, public services and accommodations, is one of the the most sweeping civil rights law passed since the 1960s. Most portions of the law took effect in 1992, but compliance deadlines have been staggered for different groups.

State and local governments are required to make all of the structural changes the law requires by Thursday. Failure to do so could trigger a citizen complaint to the government body, a lawsuit in federal court or a civil rights complaint to the Justice Department.

That's what worries Crofton leaders.

"I want to do something before we found ourselves in the hot seat because we haven't done it," said Ms. Swann. "I also want to do what's required so we won't do something expensive and elaborate that's not required."

At the Crofton Civic Association meeting this month, Ms. Swann announced that she was going to get estimates on what it would cost to build a ramp and another entrance to make the town hall accessible to those using wheelchairs.

Last fall, Ms. Swann called the county's ADA office to find out how the district should implement the ADA law. The county scheduled a survey of Crofton but canceled it. It has never been rescheduled.

In December, the county executive's office sent a letter to the Crofton Civic Association, reminding the governing body of the special tax district that the community had to comply with the ADA because it is a public entity.

The letter asked community leaders to describe Crofton's programs and buildings in a letter to the county's ADA office. Ms. Swann responded less than a month later, but she has not heard from county officials.

Bill Anderson, the county's ADA coordinator, said the act does not require the county to guide Crofton, which is a district independent of the county government.

"My function is to ensure that the county government complies," said Mr. Anderson.

Although the special tax district is not in compliance, ADA experts say the district shouldn't worry as long the district has a plan and will implement it soon.

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