Are parish and city governments in compliance with federal law?

Covington News Banner
December 18, 2002
BY Leslie Ackel

(First in a series)

COVINGTON - As local government officials and committee members spend hours of study, time and money preparing guidelines for the New Directions 2025 assessment program and handing out grant monies for the arts, watershed studies and community action programs, they have been in violation of federal law for the past eight years.

By ignoring the implementation dates of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which called for compliance measures to be completed in all local governmental facilities nationwide by Jan. 26, 1995, the St. Tammany Parish government and its municipalities have fallen behind on recognizing passage of a major civil rights act, one that would have allowed persons with disabilities equal opportunity to access the enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges and advantages of American life.

The News Banner has spent time over the past few months looking into ADA compliance in western St. Tammany Parish. A series of articles on Title II will follow and focus on specific requirements stated in the Americans with Disabilities Act and west St. Tammany's progress with compliance to the law. It will attempt to inform citizens of the status of how local government buildings, departments and agencies have complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act Title II, a civil rights act signed into law by President Bush in 1990.

The act has been hailed as the most important civil rights legislation since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is the 20th century emancipation proclamation for people with disabilities.

The Title II section of the law refers to all "public entities" in regard to all state and local government buildings. It simply defines the law encompassing all activities, services and programs of public entities, including courts, town meetings, police and fire departments and employment.

To define a person with a disability in accordance with the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. These major life activities include functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, breathing, learning and working. These numbers include disabled war veterans.

In a survey conducted by the ADA on population figures, there are 28,901 voting age persons with disabilities living in St. Tammany Parish.

We now live in the 21st century, and implementation of the ADA guidelines must be adhered to in all public buildings in the United States. Studies have shown that construction of accessible building costs, if guidelines are followed properly in the initial phases of building, adds no excessive burden of expense for the builder.

Specific criteria has been written and published to help governments comply with the civil rights act in regard to accessibility into buildings as well as employment, telecommunications, transportation and programs. Appointment of ADA professionals (coordinators) and documentation of specific transition and self evaluation plans were required of government entities as of Jan. 26, 1993. These requirements were implemented to help state and local government entities bring their standards into compliance.

After a comprehensive study carried out by News Banner staff in concert with local citizens with disabilities, these articles were written in hopes that the St. Tammany Parish governmental entities can soon bring themselves into compliance of this civil rights law that mandated compliance be finalized in 1995. A civil rights act is an ongoing responsibility in government.

The guidelines for accessing compliance of ADAAG (Americans with Disabilities Act Accessible Guidelines) requirements at the local public entities in Covington, Mandeville and the parish were completed in exactly the same manner.


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