Oxford addresses accessibility challenges

By Errol Castens/Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – The Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues is calling for an employee whose sole job will be compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The city’s self-study, completed earlier this year, shows even newer city facilities are out of compliance. Many accessibility problems can be fixed inexpensively – in some cases, with a change or addition of signage, wider markings of parking spaces or replacing door knobs with handles.
In other cases, however, structural changes – ramps, bevels, sidewalks, extended doorways and other remedies – are required.
“Every single city facility has accessibility issues,” said Stacey Reycraft, chairman of the commission.
Commission members prioritized accessibility issues in three groups. Level 1 is city government, transportation, security and voting facilities.
“Those are the ones that impact people the most,” Reycraft said.
Level 2 is parks and recreation facilities, and Level 3 includes administrative offices and low public traffic facilities.
One common fault found in the self-study is disability parking spaces that are poorly marked or that are too narrow for a van with a wheelchair lift. Many problems are obvious to someone in a wheelchair but don’t register with people who walk readily.
In one park, Reycraft said, “there’s an accessible water fountain, but it’s on top of an inaccessible pavilion. It’s those kinds of details that are flying under the radar.”
The commission’s top priority was the hiring of an assistant ADA coordinator.
“Even a person working part time with the city can do a whole lot of good in terms of monitoring compliance with the ADA,” Reycraft said.
Alderwoman Janice Antonow said having such oversight would prevent having to redo noncompliant projects and would make the city more inviting to people with disabilities.
“I think it would save us money in the long run,” she said. “We’re a retirement community, and a lot of these issues apply to the elderly.”
Mayor Pat Patterson initially opposed the hiring recommendation.
“We have spent more money and more effort to be in compliance than any city in Mississippi,” he said. Later he reconsidered.
“Put a part-time coordinator down on your list of things we’ll consider in August,” he told aldermen.
errol.castens@journalinc.com