When Kelly Buckland and Bobbie Ball rolled their wheelchairs into a meeting with state public works officials, bringing a list of specific changes needed in Idaho’s state capitol restoration project to accommodate people with disabilities, they thought they’d gotten the state’s attention. “They seemed really interested in all of the recommendations we were making,” said Buckland. “They seemed very appreciative that we had come in and talked to them and gone over it all.”
Buckland was the executive director of the State Independent Living Council at the time; Ball was the director of the Idaho Task Force on the Americans With Disabilities Act. The two went over the blueprints for Idaho’s $120 million capitol renovation and expansion with state officials, pointing out things like the need for wheelchair-accessible seating in the House and Senate galleries and issues with elevators and doors.
Buckland had moved to Washington, D.C. to head the National Council on Independent Living by the time the Statehouse renovation was completed in 2010; he was stunned when he started getting reports from Idaho that none of the changes he and Ball suggested had been made. Instead, new obstacles for people in wheelchairs had been added: The new underground wings had new stairs separating their two levels, with the only alternative route a long and circuitous series of side hallways leading to a hard-to-find accessible elevator.
“We told them what they needed to do, and they ignored it,” he said. So Buckland filed a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act, triggering a federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Now, federal authorities and the state have reached a settlement calling for $400,000 in modifications to the renovated capitol, five years after the renovation project was completed. They include many of the same items on Buckland’s original list, plus more.
“To me, it’s sort of bittersweet,” Buckland said. Ball died a year and a half ago after a serious illness. “It’s the public’s building, right?” Buckland said. “So obviously it should be accessible to the public, and that includes people with disabilities. I mean, we have a right to be there to do the public’s business.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.