V.I. government workers learn about Americans with Disabilities Act
Published: July 14, 2010
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ST. CROIX — Over the past two days, representatives of all V.I. government departments and agencies gathered together to be trained on the Americans with Disabilities Act for the first time since the act’s passage in 1990, an official said.
They received information on physical adjustments to buildings and parking lots, how to make programs more accessible and how to conduct a self-evaluation to address any accessibility issues.
Each department and agency had to designate an ADA coordinator for each district after Stephanie Barnes was hired as the V.I. ADA Coordinator in February.
“Today was the very first training for all the government departmental and agency coordinators,” Barnes said. Departmental commissioners were also asked to attend the trainings — on St. Thomas on Monday and on St. Croix on Tuesday.
At the meeting on St. Croix, a group of about to 40 people sat facing Jennifer Perry, a compliance specialist with the United Spinal Association, who conducted the training sessions.
“Accessibility is normally a daylong course in itself,” Perry told participants. “Our intent today was just to plant some seeds to get you thinking about access.”
Access is not relegated to just physical layouts, Perry said. Sometimes architectural adjustments may detract from a building’s historical or structural significance, so the idea is to ensure that the programming is available to everyone.
So, if the physical layout limits a person with a disability from entering, then the department may have to do a video tour that is available online or create some pamphlets that teach those interested parties about the site, Perry said.
Other issues are easier to address, Barnes said. Public transportation has already accommodated bus stops with wheelchair access points, and the Mars Hill Police Station’s parking lot is currently under construction to meet ADA standards, she said.
After discussion about the term “handicapped” and its connotation to disabled people came up in discussion, V.I. Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls “made a commitment” to remove all the handicapped parking signs and have them replaced with the universal sign of a wheelchair, Barnes said.
A number of the coordinators and commissioners recognized issues within their departments that also would need to be addressed.
St. Croix Deputy School Superintendent Maria Encarnacion said that most schools were single-story and that they would have to look at the few schools that have multiple floors to ensure they are in compliance.
The territory, as a whole, has been slow to adopt many of the ADA requirements, which are incredibly detailed, Barnes said — although, the Virgin Islands is not alone.
“It’s not only the territory,” Barnes said. “There are many state and local governments that have not been brought into compliance.”
According to Perry, 20 percent of Americans have a disability. The ADA regulations are meant to cover areas that are easily overlooked by those without disabilities.
One example was the installation of a protruding object on a wall at a height over 27 inches, Perry said. While it is easily avoidable to those who can see, a blind person’s cane would not detect a protruding fire extinguisher cabinet, and they may run into it and suffer an injury. Therefore, the ADA regulations always recommend putting a plant or something on the ground underneath it that would be detectable by someone with a cane.
Also for this reason, each ADA self-evaluation committee will have a person with a disability on it, Barnes said. Since it is easy to overlook a disabled person’s needs, there should be input from that population.
“You cannot effectuate change without having an individual that lives it every day,” Barnes said. “Someone who feels and knows it.”
Each coordinator will have the task of setting up a committee to perform the evaluation of each of the programs and services offered, Barnes said. She will be working closely with the committees to help them along the way.
Barnes hopes to have all of the evaluations finished within a year, she said. Then it is up to the committees to come up with concrete plans to implement the changes deemed necessary.
Each year, the committees will have to evaluate any new programming or tweaked programming to make sure everything is in compliance, Barnes said.
It will be the 10-year anniversary of the passage of the ADA on July 26. A small commemoration will be held at Kingshill School, where an ADA summer vocational program has been held for 20 young adults, Barnes said.