Disabled allege access is limited Group sues businesses, claiming impediments to local buildings

November 19, 1997|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Tom Creutzer maneuvered his wheelchair through the heavy door into the KFC at 7722 Harford Road yesterday, but was stymied by the hall leading to the restrooms -- it was much too narrow for the chair.

"That door is heavy, but I'm stronger than most. Not everyone in a wheelchair could do it," said Creutzer, 58, one of three people who filed federal lawsuits in Baltimore yesterday against area businesses, alleging inadequate access or facilities for the disabled.

Named in the suits were the KFC franchise, outlets of Blockbuster in Baltimore City and in Anne Arundel County and Comp-USA Inc. stores in Towson, Glen Burnie and Rockville.

The three who filed suit are hoping that publicity will encourage the corporations to correct the problems rather than go through litigation, said David A. Goldman, a lawyer representing ACCESS Maryland, an advocacy group for the disabled that helps with the suits.

Carol Elfstrom, a spokeswoman for CompUSA, and Karen Raskopf of Blockbuster said their companies have not received the suits, and they would not comment on pending litigation.

Richard Gershberg, the franchisee for the KFC restaurant -- named in the suit as Ceelee Inc. Kentucky Fried Chicken -- said that his client does not own the building, but that it has a drive-through window and wheelchair access for those who want to pick up food for take-out.

He added that the building was built before the Americans With Disabilities Act took effect, so that it should be exempt from provisions that require modifications, unless the building undergoes major rehabilitation work. He also said that two other KFCs are within three miles of the restaurant.

Goldman said this is the group's second round of suits, filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act after ACCESS investigated each complaint and tried to negotiate resolution with the companies involved.

Last year's suits involved Towson Town Center; a Staples office supply store in New Carrollton and the Westview Cinema. Towson Town and Staples took corrective action to settle the suits and Westview has gone out of business, Goldman said.

"We want to resolve the problems without filing lawsuits. We prefer to negotiate," the lawyer said. Many times, a minor change would eliminate the problem and bring an outlet into compliance with the law, he said.

Goldman said the companies named in yesterday's suit -- the KFC franchise and Dallas-based Blockbuster and CompUSA -- did not respond to letters sent advising them of complaints and asking them to correct problems.

In her suit, Joan Lanzendorfer noted such problems as high shelves and lack of parking at the Blockbuster store at 5501 Harford Road. When she moved to Anne Arundel County, she said, she encountered the same difficulty with the Crofton store.

"We're hoping that by mentioning these two places, all of those in Maryland will come into compliance," Goldman said.

Michelle Leasure, 36, of Perry Hall, who uses a wheelchair because of lupus and spinal injuries, said she has problems at Blockbuster outlets, including the one on Harford Road.

"The counters are too high and the sensors [detectors at exits] are too narrow for wheelchairs," she said. "And they place the new releases on shelves horizontally, instead of vertically, so you can't reach them from a chair."

The third plaintiff, Charles Bowers, of Prince George's County, filed suit against the three CompUSA stores alleging, among other difficulties, that people in wheelchairs must find someone with a key to admit them to the stores through a gate that is then locked behind them, preventing them from leaving.

Pub Date: 11/19/97

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