McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

April 2, 2012

Kiowa Board of Trustees told to tackle ADA accessibility issue or face possible Federal lawsuit

By Jeanne LeFlore
Staff Writer

McALESTER — Kiowa City Hall is inaccessible for those with disabilities and the time to correct the problem is now, according to Pam Pulcheny assistant director of Oklahomans for Independent Living.

Pulchney spoke at a recent Board of Trustees meeting for the Town of Kiowa.

“The American Disablitly Act has been the law since 1990 ... I’m surprised nothing has been done here,” Pulchney said. She said the situation has been brought to the attention of  Department of Justice yet; but it will if accessibility improvements aren’t made soon.

Pulchney said she was asked to visit Kiowa City Hall after Kiowa City Clerk JoMae Peck said she received a letter from OIL regarding access to the building and asked for a representative to come to the meeting to make recommendations for improvement.

 The City of Kiowa posts it’s meeting agenda on the front door of the building. On the bottom of the agenda is a notice that states, “Special accommodations for the handicapped may be done with a 24 hour notice.”

 Pulchney said she also saw the 24 notice advertised in the newspaper.

“A city building must be immediately accessible to a (disabled) person during all regular hours.” said Mike Ward Director of OIL.

Steps with no rails are on the front access to the city hall. A gravel parking lot and a crumbling ramp that is to the left of the entrance. There is no railing on the ramp. At the top of the ramp is a bump and the space at the top of the ramp is also the smoking area for Kiowa City Hall.

There is also no accessible parking in front of or in the gravel parking lot next to Kiowa City Hall.

During meeting Pulchney discussed the assessment she did of the building.

The gravel parking lot was one of the issues Pulchney discussed. “Get rid of the gravel; one slip and you are liable.” She said the entrance doors were also inaccessible as well as the bathroom. 

“My recommendation is you get bids on the ramp and the parking lot first ...” she said.

“Well that’s going to be pretty expensive,” said Jim Ryan board of trustee member for Ward 4.

 Pulcheny said not fixing the issues would be much more expensive. “Don’t look at numbers, you have to create a plan on when and how to get this fixed,” Pulchney said. Pulchney referred the Town of Gore. “They refused to answer a request to comply and were slapped with a huge lawsuit.” 

Stephen Strickland who uses a manual wheelchair said he recently tried access Kiowa City Hall and was unable to do so. “I couldn’t even get to the door to address the reason why I was there.” 

 Strickland is an Independent Living Specialist and Living Choice Coordinator for Oklahomans for Independent Living.

“These small towns need provide access just like everywhere else,” Strickland said.

 The Americans with Disabilities Act requires government entities to remove barriers to the full participation of people with disabilities.  Government officials have a duty to ensure that people with disabilities are welcomed into the public arena. According to the American Disabilities Act, officials should also understand that their accessibility to the public should extend beyond meetings. They need to participate in public life, to attend community events, to make themselves available to the community outside of more formal governmental gatherings. They have the responsibility of taking phone calls from constituents, responding to e-mails, and generally listening to concerns and questions coming from their community. 

 “It’s about equal access,” Pulcheny said. “Someone using a wheel chair cannot experience this meeting; someone using a wheel chair would not be able to work here.”

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Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.