Friday, July 25, 2008

Flunking ADA Compliance, with Few Exceptions

Posted By on Fri, Jul 25, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Randy Alexander got on a MATA bus to ride downtown to Court Square Friday morning. The handicap ramp lowered the way it is supposed to in order to accommodate his wheelchair. But when Alexander got to Court Square to get out, the ramp got stuck for several minutes.

Little wonder that Alexander and the Memphis Center for Independent Living, in conjunction with Paralyzed Veterans of America, gave MATA a grade of C+ on their Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Report Card.

Actually, MATA did pretty well. The disability community gave the city of Memphis a grade of F for employment, education, and citizenship, a D+ for construction, and a C for curb cuts and ramps. Shelby County government got Fs in employment, education, and transportation, Cs in curb cuts and construction, and a D+ in citizenship.

About 50 representatives of the disability community met at Court Square on the 18th anniversary of the signing of the ADA by President George H. Bush, Sr.

"The ADA set forth more than technical requirements for accessibility," the groups said in a prepared statement. "It promised the ideals of equality and freedom. That is why we mark the 18th anniversary with updated report cards."

In an interview with the Flyer, Alexander commented on each of the grades. A grade of C means the government is doing "just enough to avoid lawsuits," and a D means "trying to comply with the ADA only after being sued."

"A government entity should lead the way," Alexander said about the uniformly harsh grades.

Employment (F in 2008 and in 2006): Both governments lack a program to recruit, hire, and retain people with disabilities. The unemployment rate in the disability community is "astronomical," Alexander said. "Mayor Herenton's Advisory Council for Citizens with Disabilities was supposed to restart, but after the election that kind of disappeared. I think one of the city attorneys uses a wheelchair, but there's no system for a larger number."

Education (F in 2008 and 2006): Memphis has segregated schools and classes for the disabled as well as some mainstreaming. "Shriners is a segregated school. It only gives you a certificate of attendance, not a diploma." Students with hearing impairments go to one high school, White Station.

Transportation (C+ in 2008, C in 2006): "MATA has worked on some issues. Drivers are calling out bus stops and stopping for people. But just today, the very bus I got on, the lift broke." In the bigger picture, Alexander said MATA should give incentives to people on its board and on the city council to ride the bus so they know first-hand what the issues are.

Construction (D+ in 2008 and D- in 2006 for city; C for county in 2008, D- in 2006): Alexander noted that the Court Square gazebo where the event was supposed to take place does not have a handicapped ramp although great pains were taken to make it compliant with historic guidelines. He said there have been no changes to accessibility in LibertyBowl Stadium since a Flyer cover story featuring Alexander and others was published last year. But he said the Shelby County Compliance Office "is beginning to take access seriously."

Curb Cuts and Ramps (C in 2008, D- in 2006): "They are putting in a ton of curb cuts, but if the average citizen calls in to ask a question it can be hard to get connected unless you know who to call." But after 18 years the program is still behind schedule.

Citizenship (F in 2008 to city, D+ to county; F to both in 2006): "There has begun to be a difference in administrations. The city's administration not only lags behind but continues to be disingenuous in its attempts to address the issues of disabled Memphians.”

Both governments were notified of the rally and invited to send representatives. An hour after the event began, neither had.

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