MARIETTA - Allen Currey easily maneuvered his dark blue electric scooter along the Front Street sidewalk in Marietta this week, stopping at crosswalk signals before continuing on to the Ohio River Levee.
"I love this city. Marietta is a dream - I can go almost anywhere downtown on this scooter, although the brick streets can be a little rough," the Vienna resident said.
Currey said the gently-sloped ramps at each street corner and mid-block crossings make negotiating traffic a breeze.
Photo by Sam?Shawver
Dave Long, center, chairman of the Marietta Area Disabilities Commission, gets some assistance from friends as he makes his way down a sloping sidewalk to the entrance of the community building at Lookout Park Thursday. The building entrance is not Americans with Disabilities Act compliant because there is no handrail along the walkway.
That wasn't always the case, according to Marietta City Engineer Joe Tucker who, shortly after taking office, began initiating a program to install curb ramps across the city that meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
"When I first came on board, I looked at several Ohio cities, like Columbus and Cincinnati, that were facing lawsuits for non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act," he said.
Tucker said he basically looked at the core issues of what those cities did wrong, then addressed those same issues in Marietta.
"Those cities faced millions in upgrades and court costs, and I did not want that to happen here," he said.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act that continues to be the driving force behind upgrades making facilities, both public and private, accessible to everyone, including the aging and disabled.
"We take ADA very seriously. It's a federal law, not a state or local mandate," Tucker added. "Anytime a street is paved, we install ADA curb ramps at the intersections. The law says we must do this."
Just as curb ramps are installed when streets are paved, accessibility issues in businesses are expected to be addressed when significant renovations are performed.
Tucker noted that members of the Marietta Disabilities Commission are included when planning for projects like the upcoming Fourth and Greene streets intersection improvements and other upgrades.
"We want to include their input on accessibility as we plan for future projects," Tucker said.
Dave Long, who chairs the nine-member disabilities commission, said the group is delighted to have a part in the city's planning processes, noting that a lot of progress has been made, but there's still much work to be done on accessibility issues.
"Mr. Tucker has become very educated on the proper way to do curb cuts and to install ramps, and he has done an excellent job throughout the city," Long said. "And one of the disabilities commission's first jobs was to point out all the areas in the city where curb ramps were needed.
"But I've had a lot of people saying they don't even have sidewalks along their streets," he said. "One area is on Harmar Hill, where one woman in a wheelchair and an elderly man who walks with a cane say they have to walk in the street and stay close to the curb because there's no sidewalk."
Long said the disabilities commission has also been authorized to conduct a survey of city sidewalks and report walkway conditions to the safety-service director.
"People in wheelchairs see issues with sidewalks that others may not see," he said. "So we're gathering data on where the worst sidewalk conditions are located."
In addition to sidewalks and curb ramps, Long said the city is making gradual progress toward more accessible municipal buildings.
Long noted that the Americans with Disabilities Act had a lot to do with finally getting the ball rolling on the municipal court project as the current court is essentially inaccessible for folks confined to wheelchairs or elderly residents unable to climb the stairs at city hall.
A writ of mandamus lawsuit filed by Harmar area resident Butch Badgett, who is also disabled, resulted in a court order that the mayor and council work together with Badgett and Municipal Judge Janet Dyar-Welch to develop suitable and accessible municipal court facilities. Construction on a $3.35 million project to renovate the former Ohio Bureau of Employment Services building at 217 Third St. into a new municipal court is now scheduled to begin in October.
"I think we can guarantee the new municipal court will be handicap-accessible, and they're now working to renovate the armory and will make that building a lot more accessible," Long said.
But he added that the city hall building, where municipal court is now housed, will also have to be brought up to ADA standards.
On Thursday, Long joined members of the Washington County Developmental Disabilities Public Policy Council at a Marietta City Council meeting where Eighth Street resident Alicia Hunt urged council members to support measures to improve housing standards for disabled people.
"I've been disabled my whole life, and I live in an apartment that's not ADA-compatible," she said. "It's hard for people with a disability to live in a home where the doors and hallways are not wide enough to turn around or to get through."
Ironically, the Lookout Park community building in which city council meetings are held is not fully accessible. Although wheelchairs can negotiate the sloping sidewalk to the building's entrance, Long and Hunt, who both use special canes for support, needed assistance because there was no handrail along the walkway.
Marietta Mayor Michael Mullen said it's a challenge to provide accessibility.
"But quality of life and accessibility have to be made available to everyone," he said. "We're working diligently to get curb ramps installed throughout the city, and there's an ongoing effort to improve our walkways and buildings."
Long agrees the city is gradually turning its accessibility issues around, but said businesses, especially those on Front and Putnam streets, should follow suit.
Gwynn Stewart, communications director with Buckeye Hills-Hocking Valley Regional Development District and Area Agency on Aging 8, said the Americans with Disabilities Act drew attention to issues facing disabled people.
"More people are now paying attention to our aging population and those with disabilities," she said. "And as people age, they are also more likely to develop a disability.
"That's why when we build new homes and buildings we have to think about how the aging and disabled will be affected," Stewart added.
She noted that older cities like Marietta often present a challenge as the older housing stock is considered of a historical nature and people don't want to disturb the integrity of historic homes.
"But the aging and disabled who live in some of these homes may need wheelchair ramps and other modifications added so they can continue to live independently," Stewart said.
She added that because Ohio's senior population is growing, the number of disabled is also growing. In response, the Ohio Department of Aging is urging local area agencies on aging to partner with disability groups.
"We need to work together to serve the growing numbers of aging and disabled people," Stewart said.