Monday, October 27, 2008

Kentucky courthouse has wheelchair access problems

From the Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader on the WKYT-TV Web site:

CYNTHIANA, Ky. — People with disabilities find it more difficult to enter the Harrison County courthouse and need the assistance of a guard to enter, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.

Sandy Sageser moved into her new home a year ago, but she didn't update the address on her driver's license because she couldn't get to the circuit court clerk's office in the Harrison County Justice Center. Severe back and kidney problems force Sageser to use a wheelchair or walker to get around, the Herald Leader reports.

Unfortunately for her, the $6 million Justice Center, which opened in 2002 as part of Kentucky's ambitious courts expansion, has just one public door. There are 11 steps in front of it and no wheelchair ramp.

Instead of a ramp, the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts installed a mechanical wheelchair lift. But the lift frequently is broken. When it does work, it's operated by a guard who must be summoned by a buzzer, reports the Herald-Leader.

Sometimes there is only one guard on duty at the entrance. If so, he either needs to call for another guard to come and help the disabled person, or he has to lock down the entrance while he operates the lift.

As the minutes pass, Sageser said, disabled people are expected to wait patiently outside on the sidewalk, exposed to the weather, the newspaper reports.

"How are they getting away with this? Isn't there a law?" Sageser asked. "Prisoners get treated better at this courthouse than we do. At least the prisoners can get in."

There is a law — the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA — that says disabled people should be able to enter public facilities under their own power, reports the newspaper.

But as Harrison County shows, the law is not always followed in Kentucky courthouses, even as the AOC has allocated $880 million to build 65 justice centers around the state. Nobody seems to know how widespread accessibility problems are.

AOC spokeswoman Jamie Ball said the courts agency can only document and
address accessibility problems that citizens bring to its attention. This year, that has included complaints about inoperable automatic doors in the Jefferson and Lee county courthouses, Ball told the Herald-Leader.

The AOC did not know about the Harrison County Justice Center until the Herald-Leader inquired about it, she told the Lexington Herald-Leader.