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Sunday, May 31, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Disabled Struggle For Access State Still Has A Long Way To Go To Meet Demands Of The Ada

Confined to a wheelchair, Molly Habenicht sometimes tosses rocks at windows in order to be let into public buildings.

Todd DeVries, who is blind, has been forced to eavesdrop outside restrooms to ensure he enters the one for men.

The two Kootenai County residents are among an estimated 15 percent of North Idahoans who have disabilities.

And, like many, the pair face frustration with simple, daily procedures.

“If I go someplace nice to dinner and have to go to the bathroom, I shouldn’t have to go all the way home,” said Habenicht, a double-amputee. “But sometimes there’s no other choice because the bathroom door isn’t wide enough to let me through.”

Saturday marked the seventh anniversary of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a landmark civil rights law designed to prevent discrimination against disabled citizens. A wheel- and walk-a-thon were held in Coeur d’Alene on the Centennial Trail to celebrate ADA and raise awareness of disability issues.

DeVries and Habenicht recently talked about how well - or how poorly - area businesses were doing in conforming to a section of the law requiring public buildings to be accessible.

“The answer is real spotty,” said DeVries, coordinator for the nonprofit Disability Action Center.

On its face, the controversial legislation signed by President George Bush in 1990 is simple: Every new or remodeled building used for public business - whether it’s a store or courthouse - must be accessible to everyone.

But in practice, it’s rarely that simple, said Bob Rudio, of Coeur d’Alene’s building department.

“I think we have a long ways to go in terms of educating the public about what accessibility truly means,” Rudio said.

When DeVries tried to find new office space for the center this spring, not a single available rental met all accessibility codes.

Habenicht, 55, has used steep access ramps that led to doorways that opened toward her, forcing her to swing the door open as gravity pulls her away.

She’s used building entrances that have buzzers to alert someone inside to open the door - a worthless system if the buzzer doesn’t work.

“Just the other day I had to sit outside for 20 minutes waiting and finally threw rocks at the window,” she said. “The ringer was broken.”

She’s also visited bathroom stalls that are perfect in every way but one - the stall isn’t long enough.

“I have to go with the door wide open, with no privacy,” she said.

DeVries also pointed out that bathroom doors frequently display the figure of a man or woman imprinted on the door, but it’s not always raised and distinct.

“It’s really embarrassing to stand near the bathroom and try to listen to voices going in and out of the bathroom,” he said.

In some cases, the problems are the result of buildings that pre-date ADA. But in others its because someone didn’t catch the mistake and no disabled person wants to file a formal complaint, DeVries said.

For example, DeVries said, if a driver is disabled and needs a gas station attendant to pump his or her fuel, the filling stations are forbidden by law from raising the price of gas.

Habenicht contends she faces that very problem regularly.

“The only filling stations I can go to and honk my horn is Cenex,” Habenicht said. “No one else will come out and gas me up for the same price.”

The news, of course, is not all bad.

Most of downtown Coeur d’Alene has easily accessible curb cuts and sidewalks, and many businesses - like Jimmie D’s Wine Cellar - have installed elevators, DeVries said.

“We’re not as good as, say, San Francisco or Washington, D.C.,” DeVries said. “But we do have more disabled parking spaces than the average community and, on the whole, we’re doing pretty good.”

, DataTimes

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