TN City Makes Access Changes After Years Of Pressure From Advocates
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express (subscribe)
CLARKSVILLE, TN--The city of Clarksville, affectionately known as "The Queen City", has a population of 123,000. At least 700 of them use wheelchairs. Undoubtedly more use baby strollers, walkers, scooters, and canes.
Nearly all need to safely cross the street.
But it has taken the persistence of a handful of disability rights advocates to pressure city officials to follow the law when it comes to its citizens' access.
Three and a half years ago, three advocates with the nonprofit group "Wheel Me On" filed a class action lawsuit against the town, claiming that its failure to provide accessible facilities and services violated their rights under Title II of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
The suit was settled in January 2004 in favor of the plaintiffs, Julia Hollenbeck, Steve Traylor and Margaret Auld. However, a final agreement, known as a "consent decree", still has not been hammered out between the city and the advocacy organization.
Earlier this week, the advocates met with city officials to review the latest proposal.
While most of the elements of the proposal were agreeable to both sides, two issues remained unresolved, Wheel Me On's CEO Julia Hollenbeck told Inclusion Daily Express by telephone.
The first has to do with sidewalks, curb ramps and crosswalks on two of the busiest roads through Clarksville: U.S. Highway 79, known within the city as Wilma Rudolph Boulevard, and U.S. Highway 41.
Hollenbeck said that city officials had refused to include these routes because they are maintained by the state of Tennessee. The plaintiffs said that was not good enough, and demanded that the city put language in the agreement stating that they either will make those routes safe and accessible, or have the state do it.
The second provision that had yet to be negotiated had to do with there being continuous sidewalk coverage across the city's streets.
Once those concerns are satisfied for both sides, the agreement will go to a federal judge to approve.
"It's taken a long time," Hollenbeck said. "It's mind-boggling."
The Leaf Chronicle reported last week that the city's 2006-07 budget contains $2.8 million to make public buildings, restrooms, roadways, and sidewalks accessible. It is part of an estimated $14 million to $20 million expected to complete all of the work over a ten-year period.
"City near deal on ADA action" (Leaf Chronicle)
"$2.8 million set aside for curb-cuts, ramps" (Leaf Chronicle)
"Trio refuses to back off disabilities lawsuit" March 13, 2006 (Leaf Chronicle)
"Wheel Me On, et. al vs. City of Clarksville" (Wheel Me On)
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Comments (newest comments at bottom)
This is great news for all disabled people.
Also, maybe this case will spark and interest in other lawyers wanting to represent disabled folks where access and/or services are being denied in court houses in New York at alarming proportions.
Presently,there are no lawyers here in New York that are interested in representing the disabled pro-bono or on a contingency.
Posted by: AJ on May 29, 2006 10:53 PM