The Norman Transcript

November 9, 2012

Barriers coming down

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Symposium to address new ADA regulations

What would you think if you visited a friend’s home for dinner and afterwards found you could not get into the bathroom? Or you meet up with friends at a popular new restaurant only to find you can’t get through the door?

These are the daily challenges of many persons with disabilities, but they are, for the most part, avoidable if society would simply catch up with modern technology and know how.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was adopted by Congress in 1990 and amended in 2009. The act offers similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 offers based on race, religion or sex. It also requires reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities in regards to employment, housing and transportation.

That act was the first major step to removing barriers for persons with disabilities to live productive, independent lives.

Recent amendments to the ADA have opened the doors even further, but adopting a law and implementing practices in our daily lives are two different things, and sometimes the gap is huge.

The ADA and Fair Housing Symposium, “Opening the Doors to Accessibility,” hosted Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Norman city complex, 201 W. Gray St., will provide information on accessibility, Fair Housing laws, new construction guidelines and more to target groups and interested persons.

“There’s really a tremendous shortage of affordable, accessible housing,” said Jeff Hughes, executive director of Progressive Independence.

As co-sponsors of the symposium, Hughes said Progressive Independence hopes to increase awareness of the housing need, particularly with code enforcement, builders and service providers.

A special demonstration of the MV-1, an American-made vehicle that is built and designed — not retrofitted — to accommodate wheelchairs and persons with disabilities will be on display Tuesday morning at the symposium. Hughes is hoping local cab companies will take note and add these vehicles to their fleets.

The symposium also will educate attendees on new ADA and Fair Housing regulations. While the target audience ranges from city governments, advocates, consumers, housing inspectors, housing specialists, code enforcement builders and architects, anyone may attend the free workshop, Hughes said.

However, registration is required and only a few slots remain.

While accessibility is important for people with disabilities, new standards benefit everyone. Hughes said accessible, universal design standards benefit those able-bodied folks who want to “age in place” in their homes as well as accommodate friends with disabilities.

Building guidelines recommend door width, bathroom access and other features. It’s more cost effective to build the accessible bathroom and shower you might some day need rather than pay to remodel and retrofit it for a wheelchair later in life, he said.

Building codes are supposed to monitor the new universal guidelines, but that doesn’t always happen, he said.

“The problem that we’ve run into is, the plans go in, but sometimes it (the building) doesn’t end up like the plan,” Hughes said.

Code inspectors can help by being fully versed on accessibility guidelines.

Transportation is also a major issue persons with disabilities face. One day, Progressive Independence employee John High needed to go to Oklahoma City. There was no public transit, and none of the local cab companies have accessible transportation for his electric wheelchair. He had to take Medride, which costs $75 each way.

Previewing the 2013 MV-1 at the symposium is an attempt to introduce a partial transportation solution. The MV-1 from Vehicle Production Group is the only universally accessible vehicle built for accessibility. The vehicle also has a model with CNG capability.

“There are a lot of cities that encourage cab companies to go in this direction,” High said. “We thought that this would be a good opportunity to showcase this vehicle.”

“It’s a legal requirement that cab companies have accessible transportation,” Hughes said.

But that requirement is seldom addressed. They say the market is there, if cab companies will make the investment.

Investing in accessibility pays off, Hughes said, and often grants will help with costs. For example, homeowners and landlords who want to make dwellings more accessible can take advantage of a grant the city administers through the community development block grants program.

Joy Hampton366-3539jhampton@normantranscript.com

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