Seymour works to improve access


Getting around Seymour isn’t difficult for Kerry Bonney, but there are places her son can’t get to as easily in his wheelchair.

If it’s nice outside, the family would like to be able to go to the library or enjoy a trip to a park without loading up in their van.

But accessibility for people with disabilities is limited in some areas and nearly nonexistent in others, Bonney said.

The city is taking steps to address those issues, however, by developing a transition plan to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The plan is a requirement for all cities and towns to help with prioritizing and budgeting for needed improvements such as new sidewalks, curbs and ramps, handicapped accessible restrooms in parks and city-owned buildings, even city sponsored programs and services.

To assist in the process, the city is working with Steve Moore of VS Engineering of Indianapolis to identify locations people need to get to without using a vehicle and how to make it safer for them to navigate those areas.

“Part of what we do when we prioritize these projects is look at getting people from Point A to Point B,” Moore said.

Popular places include churches, parks, schools, the library, stores, the downtown, restaurants and others.

Last week, Moore and city engineer Nathan Frey met with residents to begin collecting input on which areas are most important and should be addressed first.

“We want to know where you want to go so we can prioritize these improvements,” Moore said. “We don’t want to fix anything without you telling us what you need. We want it to make sense to the people who use it.”

Three people attended the meeting, Bonney, president of the ARC of Jackson County and a member of the local accessibility council, city employee Floyd Amburgey, who uses a motorized wheelchair, and Randi Pearson, who shared concerns about accessibility to the public pool and park restrooms.

Part of the ADA transition plan process is to identify where there are gaps in sidewalks or lack of ramps. The city has inventoried all of the facilities but needs feedback from the public on which ones to fix first.

Moore said not all fixes will be exactly what people ask for, but the city will try to make reasonable accommodations.

“There has to be an understanding that they don’t have an open checkbook, but this policy is to help and try to accommodate people in the best way possible,” he said.

Bonney said one of the biggest problems is private businesses not having handicapped accessible doors and restrooms.

Moore said it’s up to the business owners to do what they need to do and that the city is not responsible for enforcing ADA regulations.

“That’s the Department of Justice,” he said.

Although no other public ADA meetings are scheduled at this time, Frey said the city will continue to accept comments and suggestions from people on how to make the city more accessible and will work to make those changes.

“It should be a living a document,” he said of the ADA Transition plan.

“But we want to start out with as much information as possible,” Moore said. “We want a really strong document.”

Frey said most of the responses he has received so far have been about private sector businesses, such as better handicapped seating at restaurants and more accessible equipment and facilities at gas stations.

Those issues, however, are handled through the city and state building commissioner when approving building permits, he said.

Another problem is older buildings and property owners who don’t want to invest money to make them ADA compliant, Moore added.

When it comes to public, taxpayer-funded facilities, Frey said, sidewalks and curb ramps seem to be what comes up the most, with restrooms being a close second.

“We want to address any area of deficiency and be able to put a dollar figure to it,” Frey said. “Obviously, we can’t fix everything in one year’s budget, but at least there will be a plan to start fixing some of these things. Right now, there’s not much of a plan; and without a plan, the money doesn’t really follow.”

Bonney said she’s glad to see the city taking steps to meet the needs of all residents.

“We have to start somewhere,” she said.

The parks are one of her biggest concerns along with getting people from Burkart Boulevard across U.S. 50 and to Walmart. She also worries about Fourth Street Road and North O’Brien Street, both of which are used heavily by pedestrians.

Getting to and from these areas safely because there’s not enough sidewalks and limited or no handicapped parking and restroom facilities are some of the issues she would like to see the city address when it comes to improving accessibility.

Although some parks have restrooms with handicapped-accessible stalls, parks director Brent Jameson said no restroom has handicapped accessible doors.

“We have some dated areas in our parks,” Frey agreed.

He said the same problem can be seen in older residential areas of the city.

“In a lot of areas the sidewalks have not been maintained or there was a period of time when some areas were built with no sidewalks or they were put on just one side of the street,” Frey said. “But anything new, going in today, commercial or residential, it’s getting sidewalks, and it should be to these standards.”

Some of the issues also might be addressed by the parks and recreation plan for bicycle and pedestrian trails.

“That may help with some of our ADA issues too,” Frey said.

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