Accessibility protest prompts city survey

Prompted by protests of restaurants with inadequate accommodations and the plight of a stranded wheel-bound passenger at the Durango-La Plata County Airport, the city of Durango is undertaking a survey to evaluate the accessibility of city facilities.

The survey comes on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, showing that progress can be agonizingly slow.

“I don’t think there is a quick fix,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc said Wednesday at a meeting of the Community Relations Commission. “We have to go through a systematic review of the compliance of ADA requirements.”

The commission was formed this year to promote diversity and discourage “all forms of discrimination,” including those with physical and mental disabilities.

The city resolution that created the commission since has become a model that the U.S. Department of Justice shows to other communities, local officials said.

To promote acceptance of diversity, LeBlanc said, the city also was interested in contributing to the Discovery of the Americas Day at Fort Lewis College, which is organized as a culturally sensitive and alternative celebration to Columbus Day.

On the subject of making the city more accessible to all, Community Relations Commissioner Charles Spence said he was sympathetic.

“This is a subject that hits home for me because my 11-year-old has disabilities and is in a wheelchair,” Spence said. “When we travel, there are a lot of issues. Going through airport security is a real mess. It’s not easy.”

The Durango Area Tourism Office recently compiled a list of resources available to people with disabilities who travel to Durango, including those who need transportation from the airport.

A traveler with a motorized wheelchair from Las Vegas recently could not find commercial transportation to town.

Last week, demonstrators from the Southwest Center for Independence protested inadequate restrooms for the disabled at Olde Tymer’s Cafe.

LeBlanc said the city’s options are limited for addressing accessibility issues on private property. Under the federal law, it can mandate a facility come into ADA compliance only when its owners decide the building needs a remodel.

“The building permit is our trigger,” LeBlanc said.

Still, he hopes the citywide survey will get people in the community thinking, asking questions such as, “How do we solve Olde Tymer’s?”

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