A woman who has a form of muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair has sued the city of Helena-West Helena, alleging that the consolidated city has never complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act, preventing her from easily accessing public services.
Among the effects of the city's failure to make structural changes to facilities, as required by the law, is that she is denied equal access to events like the annual King Biscuit Blues Festival, held every October, she said.
The lawsuit, filed last week on behalf of Elaine Canady by Birmingham, Ala., attorney Ed Zwilling, alleges that the city has discriminated against Canady and others like her on the basis of their disabilities, in Canady's case "by denying her full and equal enjoyment of benefits of a service, program or activity conducted by a public entity ... and by failing to remove architectural barriers."
The lawsuit cites numerous areas of the city's downtown that it says are inaccessible or difficult to access for people who use wheelchairs. It cites "broken concrete and site debris," uneven pavement, and a lack of designated accessible parking spaces, access aisles and accessible signage at the festival's parking area.
"The area routinely designated for wheelchair accessible viewing of concerts is too small to accommodate the number of wheelchair users who routinely attend, contains obstructed sight lines and does not allow for adequate dispersion of accessible viewing areas among multiple sight lines," it says.
The lawsuit said at least one of each group of portable toilets used at the festival should be wheelchair accessible. If any special toilets have been provided in the past, the suit says, "no directional signage alerting people with disabilities to their location has been provided."
The complaint names specific streets downtown where curb ramps have "flared sides that are too steep," and it says there is an insufficient number of accessible parking spaces in the central business district, among other things.
Among the places that are noncompliant with federal law, the suit alleges, are areas outside the Delta Cultural Center, the Phillips County Courthouse and even City Hall, where "there is an accessible parking place," but it is for "employees only."
The lawsuit, assigned to U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr., seeks a declaration that the programs, services and facilities owned and operated by the city violate federal disability laws. It also asks Moody to order the city to make the areas accessible and to evaluate its policies affecting people with disabilities.
Neither City Attorney Andre Valley nor Mayor Jay Hollowell could be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Zwilling, who has filed hundreds of lawsuits across the country on behalf of disabled people, said in 2015 that "for most localities, the ADA is not on their radar at all."
He said most of the cases he pursues force the municipalities or businesses that are named as defendants to address at least some of the concerns and to pay his attorneys' fees, but they don't result in monetary judgments for plaintiffs. Under the law, he said, they aren't entitled to anything other than equitable relief.
Metro on 07/16/2018
Print Headline: Lawsuit accuses Helena of noncompliance with federal disabilities act