Public Comment

A Missing, but Significant Piece of the Branch Library Renovation Debate.

By Blane Beckwith
Wednesday April 27, 2011 - 11:15:00 AM

Lately there has been much heated debate about tearing down the South Berkeley library. Many people around this neighborhood are quite outraged, and keep protesting that this building doesn't need to be torn down. However, I say otherwise. This building should be replaced. 

During this entire debate,there is one very notable aspect that seems to have been forgotten. That forgotten factor is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the safeguards it provides to guarantee physical access to public facilities. As a person with a disability, I'm rather insulted that this important issue hasn't, to my knowledge, even been mentioned let alone taken into consideration. 

In its present condition, the South Berkeley library is so far out of compliance with the ADA it isn't even funny. In fact, it's deplorable. This building is so crowded with bookshelves, tables, chairs, computer terminals for Internet access, newspaper racks, and other things that one can hardly make it inside the front door with a wheelchair.  

As a disabled person who uses a wheelchair, I haven't been able to use this facility for at least ten years. I am sick and tired of this fact, especially since I only live three blocks away from it. Even though I am this close to the South Berkeley library branch, I can't use it and must go clear downtown whenever I want to use the library. It's totally ridiculous! 

For those people who oppose tearing down the South Berkeley library, I would like to ask one big question. How do they plan on making this small, inadequate building ADA compliant and maintain it's present level of service? In my opinion, it cannot be done. This building is simply too small and needs to be replaced with something larger. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act was twenty years old this past June, and it's high time that people started realizing to not take this crucial issue seriously is wrong, both morally and legally. Granted, there is very little we can do to change people's morals. However, when it comes to legal issues, we most certainly can. 

The ADA gives we disabled the power to not only file a discrimination claim with the Department of Justice, but also gives us the power to file a lawsuit for discrimination. The South Berkeley branch of the Berkeley Public Library, in its present condition, is a major lawsuit just waiting to happen. It's a testimony to the patience of the numerous people with disabilities in this City that it hasn't already happened. 

In any lawsuit of this type would probably be rather high profile, and attract a fair amount of media attention, especially if that was a class-action lawsuit with numerous plaintiffs. How would this look in Berkeley, California the so-called "birthplace of the independent living movement"?