Barriers Coming Down in Parish

Officials working hard to meet ADA guidelines

Covington News Banner
December 27, 2002
BY Leslie Ackel

(Last in a series)

COVINGTON - Cities, towns, counties and parishes across America are taking steps to make programs, services and facilities accessible to people with disabilities.

Recently, local city and parish officials have begun to take a look at their facilities and services, identify barriers and develop plans to remove those barriers. From the outset of this survey, both parish and cities demonstrated a sincere commitment to comply with the ADA guidelines and are energetically working to find creative, cost-effective solutions to provide total access for our local people with disabilities.

After the News Banner raised awareness through the surveys conducted under Title II, the government entities should feel good they are doing the right thing in making government buildings accessible, because if anything should be accessible, it is public buildings.

Officials with the old police jury form of government in St. Tammany Parish were initially responsible for taking the steps to bring parish facilities into compliance with ADA guidelines.

However, when the government formula reverted back to the Parish Council administration, the duty of overseeing ADA compliancy became that body's responsibility.

The parish Administrative Complex on Koop Drive, built in 1995 in hopes of moving the parish seat, was constructed in compliance with ADA guidelines. After a lawsuit was won by the city of Covington stating the parish seat should remain within Covington city limits, plans were drawn for a new judicial complex to replace the aging facility that fronts Boston Street in downtown Covington.

"The new 303,954-square-foot complex is being built in total compliance with ADA standards," said chief engineer Richard McCloskey. That building should officially open in May 2003.

If the city of Covington swaps the parish its property across the street from the new complex for the old courthouse, the city government will be responsible for vast amounts of barrier removal since the old courthouse has many non-compliant issues. "We would absolutely have to comply. The idea is to make every city facility truly accessible," said Adrienne Strouble, city administrator. "The money (for renovations) would have to be included in the budget."

Governments aren't the only entities that have had to deal with becoming ADA compliant. Law enforcement training, sensitivity and awareness help to ensure equitable treatment of individuals with disabilities as well as effective law enforcement is necessary.

Sheriff's spokesperson Tiffany Tate said that at the St. Tammany Parish Jail the lockup dormitories are fitted with handicap accessible bathrooms and showers. Braille signs are placed to help direct people with sight disabilities to make their way around the facility, she added.

Citizens depend on law enforcement agencies to communicate information vital to safety concerns during times of emergencies.

The use of auxiliary aids are often used when the law enforcement officials make public announcements. Individuals with hearing and speech disabilities must have direct access to 911 emergency telephone services, meaning that emergency response centers must be equipped to receive calls from TDD (telephone deciphers for the deaf) and computer modem users without relying on third parties or state relay services.

At the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office, operators are trained to use the TDD when the caller is silent and not only when the operator recognizes the tones of a TDD at the other end of the line.

Code enforcement officers from the Louisiana State Fire Marshal's offices say problems of non-compliance can be a matter for federal regulatory personnel. Stephen Gogreve, manager of inspections at the state office in Baton Rouge, said he goes in to inspect many facilities for non-compliance when he receives a written complaint and also when a new business opens its doors.

The U.S. Justice Department is available to all government entities for advice on bringing buildings into ADA code.

"We are here to answer questions and mail out literature that would be helpful to private businesses and government entities when they work toward compliancy," said Casey Stavoropolus of the U.S Justice Department in Washington D.C.

They are very cooperative and understanding of every city's position, acknowledging the problems in having older, historic buildings that need updating. But it's important that all members of society have access to programs, services and facilities. No question about it, cities everywhere should be committed to accessibility.

ADA code enforcement differs from state to state. In Louisiana, Gogreve said, "We inspect the buildings in accordance with the codes established at the time of construction of the building. Then we have the jurisdiction and authority to make a building comply with ANSI, (American National Standard Institute) requirements if the building was built before the ADA regulations were established," he said.

Casey Stavoropolus of the U.S Justice Department said, "The date of construction of a building doesn't shift the responsibility of compliance by a state or local entity."

However, when some structures built prior to the act do not lend themselves to total accessibility, the law states that programs or services offered must be moved to an accessible location so that discrimination of people with disabilities doesn't occur.

"It is an inherent state issue," Stavoropolus said. "Each state decides where the responsibility of seeing that the federal law is adhered to goes."

The Disability Rights section of the Civil Rights division in Washington D.C. has conducts compliance checks as part of an initiative launch through the White House referred to as Civic Project Access, Stavoropolus said.

To help state and local governments understand and comply with the law, the Justice Department has established a technical assistance program to answer questions about the ADA. The Department of Justice has a toll-free ADA Information Line that provides access to ADA specialists during business hours.

The ADA Information Line also provides 24 hours a day access to a fax-on-demand system for technical assistance materials that permits a caller to have the document sent to them by fax.

To request materials on the Americans with Disabilities Act, call the ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or voice at 800-514-0383 TDD.


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