COLORADO SPRINGS — What began as complaints about inaccessible sidewalks and driveways mushroomed Tuesday into a discussion about transportation, hearing assistance, parking and more as city officials hosted their first quarterly meeting on the Americans with Disabilities Act.
More than two dozen people gathered at The Independence Center, 729 S. Tejon St., for the forum, required under a settlement agreement the city entered into in September. Staff from the city’s ADA program, information technologies, public works, transportation and communications departments sat at the helm of the meeting, answered questions, offered updates and acknowledged more work must be done.
At the back of the meeting sat Chris and Nikole Sweeney, whose lawsuit against the city and subsequent settlement agreement spurred the forum. The two watched quietly, smiling infrequently, Chris in his wheelchair and Nikole sitting beside him. Neither asked questions or spoke out during the meeting. The Sweeneys’ attorney, Julian G.G. Wolfson, declined to comment on the forum on his own behalf and that of his clients.
The city will publish a portion of the long-overdue transition plan before the end of the year, said Rob Hernandez, ADA manager. That plan will list all buildings owned by the city, their functions, any deficiencies with ADA requirements and a timeline for rectifying them.
Some in attendance identified problem areas within the city and asked questions about where responsibilities lie.
Asked whether bus routes will expand to Penrose-St. Francis Medical Center, Roger Austin, facilities supervisor at Metro Metro Transit, said there are no such plans.
Another person asked what hearing-impaired people can do if they’re stuck in an elevator, which typically will have braille for the sight impaired.
Hernandez acknowledged he’s thought about the issue and said it might best be brought up to organizations like the national Fire Protection Association or the International Code Council.
Others asked questions about private nursing homes; Hernandez said they must follow ADA requirements. But complaints about violations at those facilities must be directed to the Housing and Urban Development or Justice departments, he said.
One woman asked whether exhibits in the U.S. Olympic Museum — which is currently under construction — will have aids for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
City Traffic Engineer Kathleen Krager said those behind the museum aim for the facility to be “the most ADA-accessible building in the United States.” As such, aids will be provided, she said.
Patricia Yeager, CEO of The Independence Center, said Tuesday’s forum was a positive step for the city, but accessibility needs expand beyond the borders of Colorado Springs.
The Independence Center recently reviewed 108 parking lots in the region, the bulk of which are in Colorado Springs, and only two of them complied with ADA standards, she said.
It’s a conversation Yeager has had with city officials before and she reiterated her concerns Tuesday.
“If we can’t park, we can’t spend money and it’s like saying ‘You’re not welcome here,’” she said.
The city owns two of the lots included in the review and cannot force private businesses to follow ADA standards, Hernandez has said.
New developments must work with the city’s planning department, which should guarantee that accessibility standards are met before certificates of occupancy are granted, said Meggan Herington, the city’s assistant planning director.
But considering the city and county’s history, it’s clear that system is inefficient and ineffective, Yeager said.
The city and El Paso County fell short of ADA requirements, The Gazette reported in 2015. Those shortcomings fell into a backlog of noncompliance, leaving buildings and pathways inaccessible to the county’s then-estimated 66,000 residents with disabilities.
If the city and county have a difficult time adhering to the standards, the same must be true for smaller regional municipalities like Green Mountain Falls, Yeager said.
Shelving the approval and inspection processes with the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department could bring consistency to local standards and enforcement, Yeager said.
In all, Hernandez seemed pleased with the forum, the turnout and the conversation.
Additional complaints, questions and comments can be submitted through the city’s website, coloradosprings.gov/ada, or GoCoSprings mobile applications, said Jay Anderson, the city’s citizen engagement specialist.
Anderson admitted the app is outdated, but said early next year the city will release an updated version.