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November 14, 2002

Disabled community presents council members with concerns

From: The Post
Nov. 14, 2002

By Liz Amrhein

Members of the National Federation of the Blind’s southeast chapter presented concerns to select members of the Athens City Council about the accessibility of the city for people with disabilities last night at its meeting at Athens Public Library, 30 Home St.

J.W. Smith, president of the chapter, said that when he moved to Athens in 1992, he was told that Athens is not a good place for people with disabilities to go.

Athens’s accessibility has improved during the last ten years, but there are still problems, Smith said.

When federation members asked the Athens officials what are doing to make the city more accessible, Councilman Gary Van Meter, R-4th ward offered several examples.

The city has been working on the Court Street revitalization, putting in more ramps to make it accessible to those with disabilities, Van Meter said. Ramps also were installed at the intersection of Union Street and Richland Avenue.

Council also has been working on funding for general sidewalk improvements throughout the city, he said. Any new improvements to the roads and sidewalks are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said.

After construction is finished on East State Street there will be ramps at crosswalks with truncated bumps on them. This will allow for the visually impaired to feel where they are on the crosswalks, Van Meter said.

Other improvements made for the disabled community include an automatic door on the city building and handicapped parking spaces around town, he said.

A problem that Van Meter said he acknowledged is the mayor’s office, where a set of stairs allowing for entrance into the office inhibits disabled citizens from entering the space.

Another concern presented to the council members regards the council meetings. Smith said he wanted to know how accessible the meetings are to the blind and deaf communities.

Councilman Dale Tampke, D-at large, responded by saying that, in the effort to make the council meetings more accessible to the public by televising them, they overlooked the people who might want to attend them in person.

A possible solution for the deaf would be adding closed captioning of the meetings on the screens in the council chambers, he said. This would be easier than having someone at the meetings to sign.

Smith also said he would like to possibly work with the council to organize an advisory committee for the council. This committee could help the council make decisions that would best serve the disabled community.

“A comprehensive approach might suit us all in the long-run better,” Tampke said.

© 2002 The Post