Kansas City residents fight for more ADA compliance

Monday, May 3, 2010 | 12:13 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Kansas City residents with disabilities have grown increasingly dissatisfied with what they consider the city's noncompliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Kansas City Star reported Monday that among their complaints is an apparent absence of a "transition plan" that the city is required to have to address accessibility to public facilities and infrastructure.

Tory Schulte, acting city manager, concedes the city currently doesn't have that transition plan, which has been required since the ADA was passed in 1990. Schulte said he takes the lack of a plan seriously. The city risks a Justice Department lawsuit if it doesn't make a good-faith effort.

"If we're 15 years behind in submitting a transition plan, the fault is on us, and we've got to fix it," Schulte said.

Schulte and Public Works Director Stan Harris said there is a May 12 directors meeting to work on a plan and that the first step will be to hear from residents with disabilities.

Residents cite other issues, including that only 11 of Kansas City's 580 traffic signals have audible pedestrian warnings; there are problems with bus stops and curb ramps; the city government's cable television station doesn't have closed captioning; and the city's website isn't accessible to the blind.

Michelle Krajewski, public policy director for The Whole Person, a nonprofit Kansas City organization that assists people with disabilities, said one catalyst for the disability community's frustration was the removal of the ADA coordinator, Pat Gallagher, from that position in late March. Gallagher had worked for years on disability issues.

Gallagher was replaced on an interim basis by a budget analyst, Julie Steenson, who said she has no ADA expertise.

Schulte said Steenson is researching other cities and will help get the transition plan under way and that the city hopes to recruit a full-time ADA coordinator who is an expert in the field later this year.

Mayor Mark Funkhouser said while the city has "a long way to go," he told a group of disabled advocates at a recent town hall meeting that money for improvements is scarce.

"You are up against every other advocacy group out there," he said. "If you want change, you have to exert constant pressure."

Other Kansas City officials also said they are starting to address the issues that The Whole Person has been raising.

When Patrick Klein, who handles budgeting for city capital improvement projects, became aware of the concerns about audible traffic signals, he found money for improvements at key intersections. Eleven intersections are done, and 13 more are in the works. He said it costs about $6,000 per intersection, and the city has money for signalization upgrades.

The city's maintenance budget also provides money each year for ADA compliance, primarily to address curb ramps and corners. The budget for the fiscal year beginning May 1 provides $630,000 — up from $500,000 in 2009, but down from $900,000 in 2008.

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