Experts talk about access on 20th anniversary of ADA

By Kathy Sweeney - bio | email

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - The woman who founded the SEMO Alliance for Disability Independence says the Heartland region is "fairly accessible" 20 years after the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Miki Gudermuth's agency serves the disabled in Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Perry, Mississippi, and Scott counties along with the city of Sikeston.

Gudermuth says one of the keys to access is knowing what those with disabilities need.

"If you've got someone with a disability in your family, you have a friend, or you have a program that serves people with disabilities, you're going to be a lot more understanding of the problems associated with access," said Gudermuth.

One of the biggest challenges throughout the Heartland can be access to the many older buildings.

With an entrance ramp, automatic doors, and wide hallways, Cape Girardeau's City Hall is accessible to residents of all abilities, as long as they don't need to go to the second floor.

"The second floor is not accessible, at least yet," explained Inspection Services Director Tim Morgan.

Morgan says when it comes to older buildings, there are certain standards that should be met. "And that would be the entryway, and basically the passage ways and at least a restroom," Morgan said.

When it comes to ADA issues, Morgan says the use of each building can dictate those standards.  But, even a public building like the Common Pleas Courthouse can be impossible for the disabled to use, as Judge Bill Syler showed me last summer.

"You'll notice that we have 12 seats for the jury. But, they would have to step up once, and perhaps twice, in order to get to serve if they were in a wheelchair or a walker or something like that," Judge Syler said in June of 2009.

Residential buildings must have a certain percentage of space accessible to the disabled.

"Instead of having steps here, they have the ramp," Chad Hartle said as he showed a hallway in his Schultz Senior Apartment building.

With Hartle's major renovation of the old Schultz School in Cape Girardeau, he faced many of the same accessibility standards as one of his new constructions.

"It's very important that an architect for a project of this size needs to be well-versed in ADA because there are a lot of little intricacies that have to be met," Hartle said.

Back at city hall, Tim Morgan says building accessibility has come a long way.  And, he points out, there may come a time when all of Cape's city hall is accessible to all residents.

"Were the city council to consider and approve a major renovation to this building, then at that point they would have to consider the accessibility of the second floor," said Morgan.

Questions or concerns about ADA accessibility can be directed to he SEMO Alliance for Disability Independence at www.sadi.org.

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