City working to make buildings, sidewalks more ADA-compliant

Keri Thornton | Daily Press

The all-inclusive, special-needs playground at the Anthis-Brennan Sports Complex is ADA compliant and is the first of its kind in Tahlequah.

The penalties for a single violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act can be costly, but although certain structures can be exempted from the accommodation, Tahlequah city officials say they try their best to comply when it comes to both buildings and parks.

According to the Office of Disability Concerns, design requirements of the ADA affect places of accommodation and commercial facilities.

"All construction of places of public accommodation and commercial facilities for first occupancy after Jan. 26, 1993, must be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities," according to the requirements. "An alteration is a change to a place of public accommodation or a commercial facility that affects or could affect the usability of the building or facility of any part thereof."

Examples of an alteration include additions, remodeling, renovation, rehabilitation, reconstruction, historic restoration, or changes in the place configuration of walls and partitions.

"If the alteration affects or could affect the usability of or access to an area of a facility that contains a primary function, the path of travel to the altered areas and the restrooms, telephones and drinking fountains serving the altered area should be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities," according to ok.gov.

If in a qualified historic building, making an altered portion of it readily accessible were to threaten or destroy the historic significance, alternative minimum accessibility may be applied instead.

"In some instances, it will still not be possible to achieve compliance with the alternative accessibility requirements without destroying the historic significance of the building," said ok.gov.

Mayor Sue Catron said the city attempts to provide a level of access with the older facilities.

"Providing ADA-compliant buildings, sidewalks and parks is always a concern of the city," said Catron. "When building new [structures], ADA compliance is a required part of the planning process."

The fine for a single ADA violation can be up to $75,000, and a subsequent violation is $150,000.

Specific procedures and consultation with the appropriate preservation officers at the state or federal level are necessary to determine the exemptions.

Design guidelines of what new construction and alterations must be were published by the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board in 1991. The Department of Justice revised regulations, addressing technical provisions of the ADA in 2010.

Catron acknowledges that not all Tahlequah parks are ADA-friendly. However, officials are moving in the right direction with accommodations with the all-inclusive, special-needs playground at Anthis-Brennan Sports Complex, and upcoming street and sidewalk projects.

"I know there is much work needed on many of our existing sidewalks to make them more accessible," said Catron.

"One of the factors that influence the section of Choctaw Street sidewalk replacement as a project by the Street and Sidewalks committee, many of the intersections are not ramped."

Catron added that some sidewalks have buckled or are overgrown to the point that they can't be traversed by many, not just the disabled.

Another project underway is addressing the need for intersection lighting and curbing modifications for accessibility in two different areas on Downing Street.

"Design work for the intersection of Downing Street and College Avenue by the splashpad, and Downing Street and Cedar Avenue next to Casey's is underway. When those are complete, we will have much safer and accessible crosswalks for our pedestrians," the mayor said.

In 2020, a handful of new handicap spaces were created in the downtown area on West Delaware Street and North Muskogee Avenue to make up for the lack of available handicap parking in the downtown corridor.

Individuals who wish to obtain a disability parking permit must be: certified legally blind; missing one or more limbs to impair mobility; unable to walk 200 feet without stopping to rest; unable to walk without assistance from a cane, wheelchair, or assistant device; using portable oxygen; or afflicted with a neurological disease or chronic inflammatory disease.

It is unlawful for anyone with or without a permit to park in a space accessible to a wheelchair ramp or wheelchair loading/unloading area. Vehicles in violation of handicap parking laws can be towed at the request of anyone unable to gain access to or move the vehicle, or at the request of law enforcement officers.

Cherokee County Deputy Court Clerk Wanita Falk said the fine for violating handicap parking laws is $548.

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