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Attorney says city not in compliance with disability law

By Evan Belanger
evanb@decaturdaily.com · 340-2442

Ten months after a disabled Decatur resident filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, the city is still out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, an attorney said.

But city officials say they have not been confronted with any specific noncompliance issues to correct.

In January, disabled Decatur resident Rayburn Rogers filed a discrimination complaint against the city with the U.S. Department of Justice. In it, he complained there were too few accessible parking spaces at City Hall and other city properties.

Decatur City Hall has two accessible parking spaces compared to about 165 general-access spaces. The ADA requires two accessible spaces for every 25, leaving the city about five spaces short.

While the Justice Department declined to take action on the matter, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program picked up the case, initiating communication with Mayor Don Kyle and City Attorney Herman Marks Jr. earlier this year.

Noncompliance issues

ADAP attorney Lonnie Williams told The Daily last week that months after their first meeting, city officials have not taken any action to correct a number of ADA noncompliance issues at City Hall and other city properties, and they have not hired an ADA specialist as he advised.

Williams said he doubts the city will be able to build a comprehensive plan to correct the noncompliance issues without the help of an expert. ADAP could consider litigation if its recommendations are not met, Williams said.

Decatur’s ADA noncompliance issues, Williams said, include too few accessible parking spaces at City Hall and other city properties, countertops that are too high in City Hall and too few accessible bathrooms in the building. He also said there are not enough curb cuts on city sidewalks to provide proper wheelchair access.

“We tried to address some of that with the city, and I don’t know if they’re going to cooperate or not,” Williams said. “The door is still open for them to do so.”

Williams said he is still awaiting a response from Marks, whom he recently sent a letter requesting action.

City liable?

If the city does not comply, Williams said, ADAP will consider litigation to force compliance and could seek other disabled Decatur residents to make a stronger case.

The city could be liable for all court costs, including expert and attorney fees, if litigation results.

When questioned about the complaints Thursday, Mayor Don Kyle said he met with Williams earlier this year, but the ADAP attorney only advised him to hire an expert without giving him specific noncompliance issues. He said he is hesitant to hire an ADA expert without knowing if one is warranted.

“I haven’t seen any kind of formal list of alleged violations or anything of that nature,” Kyle said. “I think our response would depend on what the allegations are.”

As to parking spaces at City Hall, Kyle said he is investigating enlarging the parking lot to accommodate the extra spaces, some of which must be large enough to accommodate a wheelchair van, but he has not come to a conclusion.

Kyle also said the city does have accessible bathrooms in the basement and the city did initiate a comprehensive compliance plan in 1990 when the ADA took effect, though he has not looked at the plan yet.

“Generalities we can’t address,” he said. “I’d like to see more specifics before we take any action.”

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