Among its biggest challenges Superintendent Matt Purcell says is ensuring a safe and accommodating environment for the 800 people in its care, working with them from birth through adulthood. The difficulty comes down to infrastructure, many local buildings and sidewalks in place before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
At their Gallia Street school, serving 70 students, work has been done to build a ramp, elevator, and widening of door frames with assistance from the Scioto County Commissioners. These moves appreciated, Purcell said he would prefer a one-story building if the cards were on the table.
“It is incumbent upon us to make sure if anybody in this community has an accessible building it’s us,” he said, the very Vern Riffe School where the board is located was built in 1909. “It’s a charming building with ample space, although it does have its obstacles. When we do become aware of an obstacle, as Bill (Adams) pointed out, we do our best to overcome it.”
SCBDD self-advocate Bill Adams is an active voice in raising these concerns, doing so as locally as the courthouse to as far away as Washington D.C. As a service recipient, he is thankful for the board’s work- helping him as Shawnee State University student, with his job and his marriage to Sherri.
Created to ensure equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities, the ADA works hand-in-hand with Adams’ goals. In 1993, he went to Philadelphia for a two-week seminar to learn about the legislation and how to use his communication aid. The lessons he received ultimately inspired Adams to attend college, saying the ADA has a “special place in my heart.”
“It was the first thing I was made aware of as an advocate,” he said, joking that the 1993 program revealed his age. “Because of the ADA, buildings should be accessible to all.”
According to the 2010 ADA standards, all public constructions after Jan. 26, 1992, had to “readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” While exceptions such as proven impracticability are included for these newer builds, alterations to historic facilities are also ordered to comply to “the maximum extent feasible.”
For example, if alterations for compliance can be shown to harm or wipe out the building’s historical significance then these changes are not ordered to take place.
Adams understands historical organizations may want to preserve its original layout, but at the same time, he does see it as another barrier for disabled people to face when there are ADA exemptions.
“Oftentimes, this is unfair to somebody who may be in a wheelchair,” he said. “Because of the times, there were no routes to get into buildings in the old days.”
Solutions to accessibility can be cheap, he said, the installation of portable ramps for one-step entrances, rearranging of furniture, and low-density carpeting to improve wheelchair maneuverability among multiple ideas.
The path to entering these buildings however can prove to be a literal obstacle in itself, cracked sidewalks and a lack of crossing road buttons making for unsafe travel.
Part of a proposed series of infrastructure improvements, City Engineer Nathan Prosch announced earlier this year that his department was conducting surveys of both Portsmouth roads and sidewalks.
“We really need to be investing because I don’t really need to tell you that our infrastructure is deteriorating,” he said during the Feb. 20 city organizational meeting, early maps demonstrating multiple trouble spots.
With sidewalk and curb repairs valued at $27.5 million for just half the work, additional expenses would come through the addition of detectable warning devices at the bottom of curb ramps.
Through 2015 Ohio Department of Transportation decision, Prosch said a city entity like Portsmouth would be solely financially responsible for the project- focused over the next two years along Second, Washington, and Gay Streets and Route 23.
“You can probably guess there are not a lot of ADA-compliant curb ramps in the city,” he said in a March 23 interview. Having spoken with ODOT previously, Prosch said the cost is significant and will either be an in-house expense or bid out to other companies.
Having the cash-on-hand for this project, where roughly 140 ramps are needing repairs at the tune of $2,000 to $2,500 each, is also rooted in history.
“That’s just so much money, so much time,” said Prosch when asked for a potential timeline. “We were once a town of 40,000-plus people and now we’re only a town of 20,000.”
“We have all this infrastructure to maintain with half of the revenue coming in.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
© 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.