Disabled access in works at YMCA
The Nuuanu YMCA shut its doors to the handicap entrance several months ago. No one has done anything about this. There is no place someone in a wheelchair can enter. They said they shut the entrance for security reasons. Can you help?
Answer: The Nuuanu YMCA is taking a serious look at making its facility more accessible to the disabled, in line with requirements set forth under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As it is now, the main building has "significant, glaring access problems that need to be resolved," said Francine Wai, executive director of the state Disability and Communication Access Board.
There is a ramp on the Ewa, rear side of the main building, which has been designated the entryway for people in wheelchairs, or with walkers or strollers. That entryway has been and remains available for use, said Michael Doss, senior vice president of the YMCA of Honolulu's Nuuanu Branch.
He said you may be referring to a service ramp on the same side of the building, which was closed last year because of security reasons -- people from a nearby park were entering and "posing a risk to members."
In fact, all but one of the entryways -- the one facing the Vineyard Boulevard parking lot -- have been restricted because of security concerns, Doss said.
The problem, according to Wai, is that the one wheelchair-accessible entrance into the main building does not appear to meet ADA standards.
For one thing, someone approaching the main entrance from the Vineyard parking lot, or any other entrance, would not know where that entryway is because there are no signs.
It also is far away from the main entrance, and the width and condition of the walkway and its proximity to a driveway are questionable, Wai said.
The problem, Doss acknowledged, is that the main building was built in 1963, before ADA requirements became a consideration.
The attached three-story wing was added in 1992, after the ADA took effect. It does have a lift from the garage and an elevator to each floor, but, for an unknown reason, there is no ADA-accessible connection to the main building.
Neither the now-closed Pali Highway main entrance nor the entrance from the Vineyard parking lot were ever ADA accessible, Doss said.
In response to your complaint, he invited us and Wai to tour the facility last week.
He provided a summary of a consultant's 1999 ADA study of the Nuuanu YMCA, listing the top priorities. Among them, adding a van-accessible parking space and an additional "van accessible" sign, as well as reconfiguring a curb ramp, were suggested and completed.
The consultant also suggested providing an accessible route, such as a ramp or lift, at the main entrance "if readily achievable," or an alternate accessible route to the main level of the facility.
Doss, who became executive director about four years ago, said the decision to implement the alternate route, instead of installing a ramp or lift, was made before he arrived.
However, Wai said the YMCA needed to "give serious consideration" to making one of the main entrances an ADA-accessible entryway, such as by installing a lift.
Doss said he would immediately look into the costs and feasibility of making the accommodations; in the interim, he planned to post signs directing people to the alternate accessible entrance.
Wai explained to us in an earlier interview that a facility like the YMCA (a private place of public accommodation), even if it was built before the ADA became law, is required "to do readily achievable barrier removal."
It is not required to bring the facility up to the standard that would be required for new construction, she said, but it is required to assess what it needs to do to accommodate the disabled and whether doing so is "readily achievable."
That would mean it is technically feasible to make the changes, but also that doing so would not present "an undue cost burden," she said.
If it has done such an assessment and determined it is not structurally feasible to make certain changes, such as putting in a lift or ramp, they should be prepared to defend their decision should the issue be raised by an enforcement agency*.
Wai also said people can call her agency to get information about what the ADA requires, whether that be an individual wanting to know what a company's or organization's obligations are or an organization wanting to find out what it is required to do. (Call 586-8121 or check its Web site, www.hawaii.gov/health/dcab/home.)
"But, we don't review plans for the private sector nor are we an enforcement agency," she said.
If someone feels a private business or organization is not complying with ADA requirements, the Disability and Communication Access Board would direct the person to file a complaint with the Hawaii Disability Rights Center, the Department of Justice, the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission or a private attorney, Wai said.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
In our June 10 Kokua Line about the lack of accessible entryways into the Nuuanu YMCA, we said the U.S. Department of Justice may grant a waiver if a business or organization makes an assessment of its facilities and determined it is not structurally feasible to make certain changes, such as a putting in a lift or ramp.
"This is not correct," said Francine Wai, executive director of the state Disability and Communication Access Board, who was quoted in the column.
"There is no 'waiver' from the Department of Justice or anyone else," she said. "The entity should document why the change was not feasible and be prepared to defend their decision should the issue be raised by an enforcement agency."
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