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May 1, 2004

Advocate: Access isn't optional

From: Topeka Capital Journal, KS - May 1, 2004

ADA doesn't require request

By Alicia Henrikson
The Capital-Journal

People with disabilities shouldn't have to ask for accommodations in order to participate in an event conducted by a public entity, an official with Kansas Advocacy and Protective Services said Friday.

"That's not what the federal law says," KAPS executive director Rocky Nichols said.

Robert Bugg, interim director of the city's human relations commission, postponed the "Keepers of the Dream Fair Housing Summit 2004" Thursday after disabled attendees voiced objections that the meeting didn't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

There was no sign-language interpreter or program materials in Braille.

Later on Thursday, Bugg said that the ADA didn't require the city to make special accommodations at a meeting unless notified in advance.

Nichols disagreed, citing a portion of the ADA that deals with state and local government services.

"It doesn't say the public entity shall take steps for accommodations when asked in advance," Nichols said. "It says the public entity 'shall ensure' it."

He also said people shouldn't have to call and request accommodations because they have a disability.

"We found it odd, I would say, that they would ask if people needed a vegetarian lunch, but not if they needed a sign language interpreter or Braille," Nichols said. "That's a pretty glaring point to us."

The ADA doesn't specify that it applies to particular public events, services, programs or activities.

When asked if the city of Topeka and Shawnee County should supply aides and services for the city council and county commission business meetings, Nichols said he thinks a public entity would want to make those resources available.

"They ought to have it there or should at least have it on call," he said.

Shawnee County counselor Rich Eckert said the county hasn't had requests for accommodations, such as a sign-language interpreter or Braille materials.

"We would have to be put on notice, and we have had no requests," he said Friday. "If such a request is made, we will investigate it immediately."

When the same question about city council meetings were posed to city spokeswoman Ruth Maus, she issued the following statement:

"Making city government accessible to all our citizens is very important to us, which is why we take appropriate steps and give primary consideration to the request of anybody with a disability, in accordance with the law. Evidence of that good faith, for example, is the fact that we chose to postpone the Fair Housing Summit until such time as all attendees could be provided with reasonable accommodation."

Maus also was asked why City 4 television, the city's station, doesn't have closed captioning. She said the station is exempt from the closed-captioning requirement under Federal Communications Commission regulations because its annual revenues are less than $3 million.

"Our station has zero revenues," she said.

Nichols said he hopes Thursday's situation involving the fair housing summit is one public entities can learn from.

"Really, if you analyze it, three things went wrong," he said. "They didn't ask, they didn't plan and they didn't provide the services. The city needs to learn from this and do better next time."

Bugg said Friday that the housing summit likely will be rescheduled later this month, but it depends on when speakers and presenters will be available.

Alicia Henrikson can be reached at 295-1192 or

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