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Human Services & Recreation Department

  • Brief History of the Accessibility & Disability Commission

    Robert Gorski began the history of the commission by going back to the mid-1980s when a small group of disabled people approached Councilmember Rick Cole with accessibility issues needing improvement. Fellow Councilmember Katie Nack, who had a disabled adult child, also became involved with discussions with the group. Eventually, Council authorized an Accessibility Task Force to report on accessibility issues and make recommendations.

    One major recommendation was to create an accessibility coordinator position for the City. This was at a time prior to enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the position was to coordinate the City's compliance with Section 504 of a 1973 federal law which prohibited discrimination based on disability by any entity receiving federal financial assistance. Council created the position and Gorski was hired in the spring of 1989.

    In 1991, shortly after the Americans with Disabilities Act started to become effective, Council implemented another major Task Force recommendation and established the Accessibility and Disability Commission. The Accessibility Task Force was disbanded. Gorski's coordinating role expanded to include compliance with the ADA and liaison with the new commission.

    One of the first commission projects was to assist the Accessibility Coordinator establish a priority system for a long-range plan to construct curb ramps where pedestrian crosswalks joined public sidewalks. The commission was also instrumental in getting the City to start construction. At first, no funding was available, but one day while the city manager was a guest on a local radio program, a commissioner called the program and asked the city manager when construction would begin. The next day Public Works staff reported that funding had become available.

    Throughout the 1990s the Commission was very involved in advising the City on resolving ongoing access and customer service issues with the City's Dial-A-Ride program. A commission subcommittee on Accessible Transportation was active throughout the period, and much of its time and energy was devoted to improving the program's service and reliability.

    In its early years the commission was also greatly involved in surveying City parks for accessibility issues and reviewing transition plans for various City facilities. After the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, the commission looked into the City's preparedness to assist people with disabilities after a major earthquake and make a variety of recommendations. Nevertheless, the most critical ones, addressing accessibility at Robinson Park Center, have not as yet been implemented.

    Only near its beginning has the commission paid attention to issues of employment and disability.

    In the first part of the new century the commission was greatly involved with improving the City's taxi ordinance to reflect how taxis must provide non-discriminatory service in light of ADA requirements. A local taxi's refusal to transport a blind customer with a service animal sparked a successful effort to amend the taxi ordinance in a variety of ways to insure that all individuals with disabilities would be served appropriately. This effort also involved discussions between commissioners and taxi company managers.

    In 2000 the commission spearheaded the organizing of a day-long festive occasion in Memorial Park to honor the 10th anniversary of the ADA. A network of local disability agencies and individuals remained in place after the 2000 celebration and became the coordinating body for a wide range of ADA celebrations throughout the 15th anniversary year in 2005. In preparation for the ADA's 20th anniversary in 2010, the Commission created an anniversary emblem that was used throughout the year on various occasions, as well as by groups in other localities. The commission had the emblem printed on large lapel pins which were distributed to many groups, including a Rose Parade marching band from the Ohio School for the Blind.

    Thelma Johnson observed that over the years, the commission has not paid great attention to accessibility issues for people with sensory disabilities and announced her hope that the imbalance was changing.