El Centro officials accept wheelchair challenge from ADA advocates

October 03, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Officials of El Centro now somewhat know what it is like to use a wheelchair to get around.

Mayor Cheryl Walker and city engineer Ken Skillman spent an hour in wheelchairs and on hand-powered tricycles Tuesday maneuvering their way around City Hall.

The effort was the result of a challenge by local residents who use wheelchairs as their primary source of transportation.

Leading the challenge was El Centro resident Michael Rodriguez, who has been after the city to make the community fully compliant with the federal American with Disabilities Act.

"We're willing to work with the city to make it ADA compliant," Rodriguez said.

The challenge began at City Hall, where Walker and Skillman were asked to make their way into the bathrooms and inside City Hall itself. Both entered City Hall without a problem, but the bathrooms were locked.


From there the three headed west on Main Street, with Walker having a hard time getting out to the street through the gates, as she kept going in circles at first. Finally everyone headed west.

Keeping a wheelchair from veering from one side to another was not easy for either official, and every time they crossed a driveway the chairs had a tendency to want to head down the slope to the street.

"It's hard work, I'll admit it," Skillman said.

From the southeast corner of Main Street and Imperial Avenue, the trio headed north. When they reached the corner of Imperial at Broadway, Rodriguez pointed out the high lip that would have to be overcome where the street transitions to sidewalk at the northeast corner. The lip is so high, in fact, Rodriguez, in an electric wheelchair, had to take it backward, as did Skillman. Meanwhile, Walker — whose chair was not adjusted to her height — had to stand up and push the chair up the lip of the sidewalk.

The group eventually was joined by El Centro resident Kenneth Burkey, who pointed out that individuals seeking to cross Imperial to the west at the state Department of Motor Vehicles would not be able to do so because, while there is a crosswalk, there is no wheelchair ramp.

At this point, Walker and Skillman changed to the hand-powered tricycles, which steer with the front wheel.

As there is no ramp at the northeast corner of Imperial at Commercial Avenue, the group had to ride in the street down Imperial to the first driveway. At the corner of Imperial and Adams Avenue, the group turned around and headed back toward City Hall by way of Broadway and 12th Street.

While headed east on Broadway, Walker offered her thoughts on the challenge.

"It gives me insight to some of the access issues in our ADA studies," she said. "It will benefit the city that they have prioritized their needs."

A study presented to the City Council in June estimates it would cost the city $11 million to make the city ADA compliant, including $7.5 million just for parks.

Skillman said the city cannot do all of the work in one year, and that he, too, appreciates a list of priorities.

The priorities are offices at City Hall, including rest rooms; the crosswalk from City Hall to Bank of America; repairs to the sidewalk in front of Bank of America; the crosswalk behind Bank of America toward Broadway; a bike lane along Imperial from Ross Avenue to Adams; repairs to curb cuts on Broadway and Imperial; a curb cut at DMV and Barbara Worth Drive; and ramp repairs and installation of an automatic door at the library, among others.

Rodriguez asked the city to respond to the letter within 15 days.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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