Equal Access Disabilities Rights Should be Upheld

By Geri Mariano

August 26, 2014
In recent weeks there has been much commentary on this site and other local outlets about handicap parking and the abuse of motorists parking in reserved spaces without the requisite tag or plate proof. There are few spaces for those drivers or passengers who have mobility issues, whether walking with walkers, canes or prostheses. or those who use wheelchairs to get around.  Handicapped parking is just one aspect, though, of the overall issue of access to businesses in town, here and in other communities.

Twenty-four years ago on July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the landmark legislation The Americans with Disabilities Act into law.  The ADA, as it is commonly referred to, is a comprehensive civil rights law that is supposed to guarantee people with disabilities the same opportunities as every other citizen to participate in mainstream American life – whether by employment or recreation, including purchasing goods and services, and to participate in state and local government programs and services.

The ADA is a federal law and grievances can only be brought through the Department of Justice.  However, New York State has its own legislation regarding rights for people with disabilities.  For example, the 2010 NYS Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Codes has Chapter 11 dedicated to Accessibility.  Section 1101.2 Design calls for “Buildings and facilities shall be designed and constructed to be accessible in accordance with this code and ICC/ANSI A117.1”

These regulations and guidelines are separate and distinct from the ADA building access guidelines and are under the jurisdiction of the NY Department of State. However, each municipality, unless it gives up its responsibility to its County, has the primary responsibility to see that the codes are in compliance.  And that responsibility starts with the Building Department and Inspectors.

While available reserved parking spaces are necessary, they are useless if residents cannot get into the store or restaurant of their choice once they have secured a parking space.

It has been said in years past that mobility and access issues don’t affect a large enough segment of the population in North Castle, a small municipality, but that does not negate the fact that the rights to equal access remain and should be upheld.

Every NYS municipality should be up-to-date on the regulations and codes regarding access; they must also make sure that there is compliance of these codes. In an older community with older buildings, there are exceptions to meeting the access requirements, but new construction and renovations of a certain magnitude do require compliance. With an ever-aging population and new communities opening, such as The Bristal Assisted Living that caters to older residents, access to shops and restaurants becomes more relevant. And sadly, sometimes an able-bodied resident may suddenly find him/herself with a debilitating injury or illness, and access becomes necessary.

Businesses should recognize that being accessible is beneficial as it can expand their customer base. Shopping areas such as Sir John’s Plaza and Armonk Town Center could benefit from better parking and less hindrances along the walkways. Restaurants that technically are accessible should not have tables that block entrances. Customers needing the accessible openings should not be made to feel intrusive if diners already seated have to get up and move.

While not a “popular” issue or one that does not affect “enough” people, access to businesses and services nonetheless is a right for all people and should be respected and striven for.

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