The Americans with Disabilities Act recently turned 31 years old, which makes it a relatively new idea that is still being implemented.
Before 1990, the United States looked different than it does today. Today, St. Joseph Parks Department playgrounds all meet ADA standards thanks to a recent Capital Improvements Program project, which paid for new equipment.
Parks Director Chuck Kempf compiles a list of renovations and new projects within the city on an annual basis and charts the progress of ADA standards.
“There maybe was a step to go up in a playground, we provide a ramp to at least get people to the playground,” Kempf said.
Obviously, the entire playground is not going to be fully accessible, for example, a child in a wheelchair, but part of it would tailor an experience for that child with perhaps bells or access to the first level of equipment.
In the past, the world didn’t consider these things. Rob Honan is with Midland Empire Resources for Independent Living and has experienced the change while also advocating for better living standards for people with disabilities.
“There’s been a lot of advances in disability rights and awareness because of the law,” Honan said. “The three main titles are Title I — employment; Title II — local and state government access; Title III — public accommodations, and that’s such things as restaurants, bars, you know, hotels, doctors offices.”
Honan believes there still are barriers that people with disabilities face when it comes to the workplace, as some employers are hesitant because they may not understand a disability fully.
He recommends that if an individual notices a discrepancy with a business, that they first contact the store owner, describe their disability and request accommodation. If that doesn’t work, there are other routes such as appealing to the Department of Justice.
Changes in the last 31 years to infrastructure have been vast, and it’s something that has had other benefits to society.
“I’ll give you another example. A closed captioning on a TV or subtitles on a TV, you know, those are ostensibly for people who are deaf or hard of hearing,” Honan said. “But, you know, it’s very good if you go to a crowded bar … someone who’s learning English as a second language, another really good educational tool.”
This Tuesday, Aug. 3, voters will decide on a half-cent sales tax to restore and improve parks in St. Joseph.
“The projects that we included in the parks tax, a lot of them — not all of them, but a lot of them — will improve accessibility,” Kempf said. “I think it’s difficult for people that don’t have disabilities to sometimes identify those obstacles.”
Take for instance the bathrooms at various parks around St. Joseph. Some were constructed in the 1950s, which means they do not possess the accessibility standards a new construction would have today.
An individual who may enjoy spending time on the Parkway may have to wait until they get back home to use the restroom, which is an inconvenience the parks department will look to solve regardless, but it could be expedited if voters approve the parks tax.
Even the design of the new firehouses in town left out the iconic firepole. One-story structures meet ADA compliance and also benefits firefighters who may be older in age.