- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Editor’s note: The Americans With Disabilities Act turned 25 Sunday. The News Press examines the Act and accessibility issues.

First of a series

When people think of the Americans with Disabilities Act, they may picture wide doorways and bathroom stalls or reserved parking spaces but the law addresses much more than that.

The Americans with Disabilities Act touches almost every aspect of an individual and a community’s life, addressing areas like communication, employment, public facilities and parking, health care, hospitality and recreation, correctional facilities, education, service animals, mobility devices like wheelchairs and veterans issues.

City of Stillwater Marketing and Public Relations Director Sherry Fletcher said the city was careful to follow ADA standards when it remodeled the Municipal Building and Police Department, including the city jail.

In the mid-2000s, the city began to focus on building more sidewalks to make Stillwater more accessible and pedestrian-friendly. Old sidewalks were improved and intersections got ramps and textured mats to make them safer for people with limited mobility or other disabilities.

According to the minutes of a 2004 Planning Commission meeting, city staff told the commissioners if the city had required developers to build sidewalks to “nowhere” 20 years ago, connections could have been made and the city would have a network of sidewalks to “somewhere.”

After years of allowing developers to skip building sidewalks, the city began requiring them to either build sidewalks or deposit enough money into a sidewalk fund to cover the cost for the city to do it.

Roxie Weber Plaza resident James Probis appreciates the improvement to the city’s sidewalks even though he doesn’t think it was meant for him.

“I’m not disabled, I’m just old,” he said.

At 83, Probis gets up early most days and walks from his apartment to Stillwater Medical Center using Seventh Avenue. The sidewalk is nice and wide most of the way and the tall retaining wall gives him a place to sit down if he wants to rest.

Parks and Recreation Director Jim Scott said someone doesn’t have to be disabled to benefit from ADA compliant design. It also helps people as they age or if they are suffering from an illness.

He said his department developed an inclusion plan to meet ADA standards but he thinks they were already doing a pretty good job in that regard.

Scott, a 28-year volunteer with Special Olympics Oklahoma, said that experience gives him a good perspective on the importance of being inclusive.

The municipal pool recently bought a new lift for the pool. Scott said it doesn’t get used often, even by people who could and should, but it’s important to have it.

Stillwater also has accessible play equipment at the city’s largest playground in Strickland Park.

The city applied ADA standards when it built an addition to the Stillwater Community Center and modified parking spaces on the east side of the building. Architects and engineers automatically incorporate the standards into public buildings they design, Scott said.

Older sections of the Community Center weren’t brought up to standards and the lack of an elevator means the second floor isn’t accessible but Scott said the second floor hasn’t been remodeled at all and really isn’t usable.

The city has an Accessibility Advisory Committee that addresses issues as they come up but in 2012, City Manager Dan Galloway recommended it only be required to meet once a year.

Scott said the city isn’t required to make everything accessible but it has to make reasonable efforts, whether that means not using conference rooms with doorways that are too narrow or adding accessible alternate entrances to buildings with steps.

The Parks and Recreation Department also sponsors activities, like dances, just for individuals with special needs.

Payne County Commissioner Chris Reding said he feels fortunate to have been elected shortly after a new administration building and county jail was constructed and a remodel of the County Courthouse was completed.

The county will address issues as they present themselves but he hasn’t been made aware of any since he took office, he said.

Roxie Weber resident Kay Clausen who uses a cane and has difficulty walking long distances said things are better in Stillwater but she still sees room for improvement.

Gaps remain in the city’s network of sidewalks and limited transportation options present a challenge for people like her who can’t drive, she said. Stillwater’s limited public transportation routes and schedules cause more problems.

C.J. Prewitt drives himself around town in his motorized chair and doesn’t have a problem navigating the sidewalks but he does wish some crosswalks allowed more time to get across the street.

He and Clausen identified the crosswalk across Sixth Avenue near Walgreens as a particular problem.

Clausen sees transportation as a consistent problem for Stillwater residents who face challenges, whether they’re physical, mental or economic.

Bus routes that stop short of the Mission of Hope homeless shelter, several trailer parks and the Whispering Hills apartment complex mean many people who don’t have reliable transportation struggle to get where they need to go, she said. It also limits access to services like food pantries.

The lack of a bus route along East 12th Avenue means Roxie Weber residents can’t go to the Senior Citizen’s Center for programs and meals.

It’s also difficult to find transportation out of town, she said.

Twitter: @mcharlesNP


(c)2015 the Stillwater NewsPress (Stillwater, Okla.)

Visit the Stillwater NewsPress (Stillwater, Okla.) at www.stillwater-newspress.com

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