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Public input sought for disability plan

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Wednesday June 13, 2001

This afternoon will likely be the last chance for the public to contribute to Berkeley’s ADA Draft Transition Plan, which will act as a guide for making all public facilities in the city accessible to the disabled. 

“This Transition Plan is an important document,” said Commissioner on Disability Charlie Betcher. “It’s been years in the making and this is the final chance for the public to have input. We want to hear from everybody who has an interest.” 

This is the second public hearing on the draft plan. The first hearing, on June 2, had a low turnout with only two people showing up. Many of the commissioners blamed poor public awareness for the low turnout. 

The Transition Plan is required by the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. The wide-ranging legislation is designed to give disabled people access to life as it is lived by people without disabilities – in employment, public services and public accommodations. It is designed to remove physical, social or institutional barriers that lock out the disabled. 

Under the act, every city in the country is required to create a transition plan spelling out exactly what needs to be done to make public buildings, offices and other facilities disabled accessible.  

According to the city’s Disability Services Specialist Eric Dibner, many of the city’s public buildings have already been made accessible. But he said it’s important for all issues of accessibility to brought up during the public hearing today.  

“This plan is only required to deal with buildings the city owns or has programs in,” he said. “If people have concerns about buildings not listed in the plan we want to hear from them because the city ultimately wants to address all accessibility problems in Berkeley.” 

Dibner said an example of outstanding needs in Berkeley is traffic accommodations such as audible traffic signals, traffic humps and sidewalk obstructions. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said many people tend to think the disabled community consists only of those who rely on wheelchairs. “The disabled come in all shapes and sizes,” he said. “It’s important for everyone, including the sight and hearing impaired and others come to the hearing.” 

Worthington said the more issues the plan covers the greater the city’s ability to apply for federal, state and private funds for accessibility projects. 

Commissioner on Disability Karen Craig said it’s important the public participate because it would be impossible for the commission to be aware of every accessibility issue in the city. 

Craig said Jim Donelson, one of the two members of the public that showed up on June 2, told the commission of several important problems at the Berkeley Pier that were not covered in the Transition Plan. 

Donelson, a Berkeley resident who relies on a wheelchair, raised three issues at that hearing: the pier’s fish-cleaning sinks are too high for someone in a wheelchair, the surface of the pier is pocked with large ruts and the windblocks are inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. 

“I didn’t know this commission existed until a day before the last public hearing,” Donelson said. “I plan to not only attend the hearing but to bring a few people with me. I have a lot of questions for that commission.” 

Center for Independent Living Deputy Director Gerald Baptiste, said he was planning to read the draft plan Tuesday night and if there was anything important left out he would make sure the commission was made aware of it today. CIL Director Jan Garrett planned to attend this afternoon’s hearing as well, he said.  

Dibner said after the public hearing, there will likely be some revisions to the plan and then the commission will send the plan, along with a plan from the City Manger’s Office, to the City Council for final approval. “We hope to finish this by the end of the summer,” he said. 

Craig said it’s critical for members of the public who are concerned about accessibility issues to come to the hearing. “If they don’t participate now, they won’t have any right to complain later,” she said. 

The public hearing on the Draft ADA Transition Plan will be held today at the North Berkeley Senior Center at 1901 Hearst Ave. at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way from 4 - 6 p.m.