Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Equal access is the
issue with wheelchairs

Question: Regarding the Kalihi-Kai student whose electric wheelchair was stolen: Does the school have a policy that he couldn't bring the wheelchair in the classroom? If so, wouldn't that be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Answer: When the theft was first reported, a Kalihi-Kai School administrator told the Star-Bulletin that Joseph Faaleaoga leaves his wheelchair outside the classroom because it is too crowded inside. To compensate, he uses a walker to get around and has an aide with him during the day to help him get in and out of his chair.

If that's the case, there wouldn't appear to be any ADA violation, said Tom Yamashita, the state Department of Education's director of the Civil Rights Compliance Office.

However, Yamashita said he would look into the matter because he did not know all the facts of the case. His primary concern is that the child has equal access to activities in school.

Federal law requires that such a student has the same opportunity as non-disabled children to participate in school activities, he said. "In other words, leaving the wheelchair outside the classroom may not be a violation per se as long as child was able to participate in classroom activities."

But, "it's too bad that a wheelchair had to be left outside," Yamashita added.

Francine Wai, executive director of the state Disability and Communication Access Board, said she hasn't gotten any calls about the case and also doesn't know what the circumstances are.

Her concern would be if the DOE had a policy relating to such a situation and, if so, that "the policy does not deprive students who need an assistive device of having it."

Wai said there would be no problem if there was a prior agreement between a child's parents and the school.

Yamashita said there was no DOE policy specifically dealing with where wheelchairs should be left and said, in most cases, the school has to use its best discretion.

Q: Last year, new traffic lights were installed at the corner of Kapiolani Boulevard and South Street. I cross this street every afternoon. The new light on the southwest side of the street cannot be seen when a bus or other large vehicle is there at a red light.

I called the city's traffic division last November, but nothing has been done.

Whoever decided to move the light so far back from the intersection did not take into consideration that the light would be obscured by traffic. Can you help resolve this problem before someone gets hurt?

A: City Transportation Services Director Cheryl Soon says that when her office received your initial call, the area was still under construction, and the final location of the pedestrian light was not set.

A field check confirmed your complaint that the pedestrian signal is blocked when a bus does not stop behind the stop line, she said. The solution was to remind bus drivers to stop behind that line.

In the meantime her department was to add an additional pedestrian crossing signal there to "enhance" pedestrian safety, Soon said.

Got a question or complaint?
Call 529-4773, fax 529-4750, or write to Kokua Line,
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered.
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