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Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 08:22 am

Disability advocates address city’s ADA procedures

Accessible lakeside parks on 2010 to-do list

Since Springfield Area Disability Activists (SADA) was created a year and a half ago, team leader Cilla Sluga and other members have worked for an accessible and integrated Springfield.

The volunteer organization has helped tackle barriers that people with disabilities encounter around the city, such as rocky sidewalks and curbs that don’t have cuts for wheelchairs. A few new goals, Sluga says, include making the Abraham Lincoln statute in front of the Capitol building accessible and constructing an accessible fishing pier on Lake Springfield.

Sluga joined other disability advocates in discussing these barriers at last week’s public hearing on the city of Springfield transition plan. The Americans with Disabilities Act, approved in 1990, requires all cities with more than 50 employees to complete an annual transition plan that outlines how their buildings, programs and services are accessible to people with disabilities.

At the meeting, Sluga asked city officials for an update on another SADA initiative — fire safety plans for high-rise buildings that have senior and disabled residents.

“We have a very good plan for the city,” Sluga says, “but we wanted to ask, ‘Is it continuing? Is it going to the other high rises? Is that training happening? Are the booklets being shared?’”

Sandy Robinson, director of the city’s office of community relations, told Sluga that he would ask Springfield Fire Chief John Kulek to address the issue at the next Springfield Disabilities Commission meeting.

Pete Roberts, executive director of the Springfield Center for Independent Living, also attended the public hearing and pointed out barriers in the city parks surrounding Lake Springfield. Wheelchair users cannot access park restrooms or pathways to the lake, he says.

Roberts also requested that the city hire a full-time ADA coordinator to ensure that all of the law’s requirements are being implemented.

“I don’t know that this would be the time to hire anyone, but we’ve been asking for this for quite a few years,” Roberts says. “Long before Mayor Davlin.”

Marilyn Selby, programs specialist for the office of community relations, has filled the role of the ADA coordinator for more than 10 years. She was part of the original Springfield Disabilities Commission subcommittee that began identifying and removing physical obstacles in city buildings.

Since then, her job has also entailed coordinating interpreters, designing emergency evacuation plans and instituting employment procedures for people with disabilities. Each city department also has an ADA representative.

“All of those things had to be in conformity with the ADA,” Selby says. “It’s a running list.”

According to the city of Springfield ADA obstacle list, released as part of the transition plan, city officials will tackle the lakeside parks in 2010. Accessible picnic areas will be added to West Forest, East Forest and Lake parks. Accessible playground areas will also be added to West Forest, Lake, Center, West Cotton Hill and Wildlife Sanctuary parks.

Also in the next year, a new accessible boat launch and an accessible dock, fishing pier and boat slips will be added to Center Park; accessible pathways and restrooms will be added to Lake, Center, West Cotton Hill and Wildlife Sanctuary parks.

Starla Norris, access coordinator for the Springfield Center for Independent Living, has been in Springfield for more than 30 years and agrees that the city continues to make progress by updating its transition plan every year.

“Are programs accessible to people with disabilities?” she says. “We’re not there yet, but it’s an ongoing process. That’s what it’s designed to be. You’re always going to have someone build something new and you’re going to question it and whether or not it’s accessible to people with disabilities.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.


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