The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

City addressing ADA requirements


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

The City of Seward recently installed this handrail and patched up the ramp behind City Hall, following concerns voiced by local handicapped advocates.

The City of Seward, with an $87,000 contract with Harmon Construction Inc., recently completed work that makes getting around town easier for people with disabilities.

The city repaired and replaced cracked or inaccessible ornate sidewalks, corrected dysfunctional curb cuts and installed yellow bump dots for the visually impaired and service dogs in some of the most high traffic areas downtown. The city also created more handicapped parking areas and signs, and fixed some damaged ramps and rickety railings.

Those repairs, mostly along Fourth Avenue, will now meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, and may reduce the city's liability for accidents occurring on city streets by anyone stumbling on cracks in the sidewalk or unexpected changes in surfaces. But advocates for the Independent Living Center, ILC, a non-profit organization promoting independence and quality of life for those living with a disability, say there's still a long way to go.

Seward ILC's L.E.A.D. group, an advocacy organization that works with city and state agencies to address accessibility issues, and promotes leadership and advocacy among its members, is organizing a "Walk and Roll" contingent to march in this year's Fourth of July parade in Seward, when thousands of people will be in town. Their message is for greater accessibility in Seward and other communities on the Kenai Peninsula in which ILC operates, and a wider public understanding of the attitudinal barriers that those in the disabled community face.

"We're not here to fight them, we're here to let them know what needs to be changed," said ILC Coordinator Melinda Maddox. She, and other advocates with the L.E.A.D.S group worked closely with Ron Long, Seward's assistant city manager and the city's new Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator, to select some of its top priorities for repairs.

ILC advocates' top goal is for the city to adopt a comprehensive ADA transition plan that would document and address each of its handicap accessibility issues over time, and regularly evaluate its ongoing progress. All municipalities are now required to adopt a transition plan, and without a plan in place, they stand to lose their federal funding.

An ADA transition plan isn't a new idea for Seward, just one that involves a detailed survey of the accessibility of all of the city's facilities, and much thought and effort, Maddox said. It's also a concept that city officials have long promised to accomplish, but sat simmering on the back burner, unattended for decades, said Maddox. She says her predecessor, ILC advocate Lynn Hohl, presented a detailed draft ADA transition plan to the council in 2007. ILC advocates are hoping that with Long acting as ADA Coordinator, and having received detailed training in his duties and accessibility law, that changes will be seen at a consistent pace.

"The city will be creating the federally required ADA transition plan," said Long.

What's left to do? Let's begin with Seward City Hall and its many offices.

Workers recently fixed the ramp running to the back door of city hall, and replaced its rickety railing.

Despite some of the measures taken, there remain several areas where the building is still not fully accessible, according to ILC's ADA law expert. The handicap-accessible parking spaces are still not where the ILC advocates say they should be. They want the spaces to be located next to the side entrance where the police chief parks, which is near, and on the same level as the backdoor ramp. This means people won't have to wheel, or walk, around the back of the building from where the parking spaces are located. The restrooms on the first floor have signage that claim they are handicap-accessible. But the only truly accessible restrooms, meeting ADA's Title II standards, are those on the second floor courtroom, in the jury room.

The Seward Police Department dispatcher's window, and its help button to talk with the dispatcher is too high to reach if you are in a wheelchair. There's no handicapped access to the Seward Jailhouse in the basement, and the diminutive State of Alaska DMV office, with its narrow entrance and high countertop, is not accessible to people with certain disabilities. There are also several protruding objects such as fire extinguishers and information racks in the hallways throughout the building that make navigating it hazardous for the visually impaired.

Some improvements were recently made to the new Seward Community Library Museum, including designated parking and a handicap-parking sign. But several facilities are still difficult to access including the Branson Pavilion, the entrance to First Lake Park, the new viewing platforms at Scheffler Creek, the community playground, ball fields and various campgrounds.

Wolfgang Kurtz | For The LOG

Harmon Construction workers create a smoother sidewalk and add a new curb cut with bump dots on the corner of Third Avenue and Washington Street.

City Parks and Recreation Director Karin Sturdy, who sits on the Seward Recreation Committee, has been working to try address many of these areas, most notably initiating improvements to allow the handicapped to get to Kawabe Park and its accessible public restrooms, say ILC LEAD members Jody Tuck and Maureen Sheehan. They say they joined the Seward Recreation Committee to assure that outdoor areas that the city owns and manages and future community recreation opportunities are made accessible.

Sturdy is also working to provide greater handicapped parking areas at city paths, ball grounds, campgrounds and parks, and has installed compacted hard-pack D-1 gravel to provide at least the minimal required wheelchair access. First Lake Park's upper gazebo picnic area became a priority of Sturdy's last fall, she said. The State of Alaska, via AVTEC, repaved the asphalt that provided the ADA, striped and signed parking access to the trail leading to the elevated park area, and the city has more plans for improvements there, she said.

"Of course there's always more to be done," said Long. He said he has informed the city council that he would be bringing annual requests for more funding each spring until the work is completed.


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