Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jackson, Miss., begins work toward making city ADA-accessible

From the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.:

The city of Jackson wants to map out how accessible it is to people with disabilities.

The Jackson City Council agreed Oct. 21 to pay $12,500 to bring in two AmeriCorps workers to help with the project.

They will work with the city to create Jackson's first Americans with Disabilities Act plan. It will document what barriers disabled people encounter with the city's physical structure, such as buildings or sidewalks, as well as its programs, services and benefits.

"The city should be totally accessible to any person with a disability," said Sam Gleese, the city's ADA coordinator.

He said the city still has a long way to go to make that happen.

The move comes as the city is under legal pressure to improve its services for disabled people. A coalition of disabled Jackson residents filed a lawsuit in September asking the courts to force the city to reform its public transportation system and comply with federal laws like the ADA.

The lawsuit alleges that the city's JATRAN bus service does not offer equal service to disabled citizens.

The ADA requires the city to have an ADA plan. The plan will look at the city's bus service, Gleese said.

The AmeriCorps workers have been trained by the Jackson-based nonprofit Living Independence for Everyone, or LIFE. AmeriCorps is a national program that connects people to short-term service jobs.

Christy Dunaway, the executive director of LIFE, said creating the ADA plan is too large a job for Gleese to take on alone. The two AmeriCorps workers will spend 35-hours a week with the city until next summer.

For example, they will have to inspect all city buildings to make sure they have wheelchair ramps and Braille lettering on the elevators. They also will check to see if city sidewalks have curb cuts to allow for wheelchair access.

They will also review city programs to see if they are welcoming to people with disabilities and check the city's recruitment process to see if it recognizes jobs that people with disabilities could excel at.

"The best thing the city can do is to show the community, and the disabled community in particular, that they have made some mistakes and now they want to start to fix it," Dunaway said.

Gleese told the council that he hopes to have a plan complete within a year. He said the goal will then be to find money to start making changes. He said he expects most of the money to come from federal grants.

Council members unanimously supported the idea of an ADA plan with a 5 to 0 vote. They approved the $12,500 with little discussion.

"Sounds like an offer we can't refuse," said Council President Leslie Burl McLemore