The Americans with Disabilities Act Complaint Review Committee met July 27 in the Auditorium lobby for its second complaint review, where Mayoral Assistant Kim Stryker announced there were two complaints from Joyce Knowles.
Knowles’s first complaint stated, “City Council has willfully refused to move meetings from the courthouse to a location where constituents can see them. This makes it particularly difficult if not impossible for deaf citizens to participate in city government.”
Knowles then mentioned problems with closed-captioning of the broadcasts. She said the message on the screen sometimes is gibberish and impossible to understand. “City Council repeatedly uses lack of money as a reason for not moving out of the courthouse but this is a straw argument as the ADA was passed in 1990,” she wrote. “The city had more than adequate time to fund the move.”
In conclusion Knowles proclaimed, “I deem this council guilty of nonfeasance for willfully and knowingly failing, refusing or neglecting to execute, or cause to be executed, any laws or ordinances within their jurisdiction by violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and failing to enforce Ordinance 2223. I am willing to pursue this charge.”
Her answer for what should be done was threefold: move city council meetings to a location where all members face the constituents so folks with hearing impairments will have a better chance to speech-read and see facial expressions; edit the close-captioning to more closely indicate what was said; and provide equipment to assist those with hearing impairments.
Stryker then read what the ADA law requires, “State and local governments must ensure individuals with disabilities are not excluded from services, programs and activities because buildings are inaccessible.”
Committee member Lamont Richie referred to State law, which specifies that city council has management and control of city finances and all real and personal property that belongs to the city. He said city council is ultimately responsible for what has and has not happened to city property, and explained the administration executes what it is allowed to execute, but city council is responsible for the lack of accessibility.
Stryker followed that what has or has not happened leads to their recommendation to city council. She pointed out the complaint mentioned city council specifically.
Committee member Bob Thomas commented none of the possible accessible alternatives would allow for live broadcast of the meetings. Stryker observed live broadcasts have been a luxury to citizens for a long time. She added that even delayed broadcasts of meetings could have closed-captioning.
Richie said the lack of live broadcasts has been used for a long time as an excuse for not moving the meetings, and he didn’t see that as relevant in the larger scheme of things. He considered it important that “the committee formed by the mayor recommended immediate action on this and immediate action is not taking place.” He also insisted all their actions be documented, and in his opinion, “Tell the mayor and city council to do it and do it immediately. They’ve had twenty-seven years.”
Stryker read the following as her understanding of what the committee’s response would be to the complaint: We the ADA Complaint Committee recognize the city is currently not providing meeting space that is ADA-compliant, and we recommend, effective immediately, the city move all meetings to an ADA-accessible location.”
“Is it that simple?” she asked.
“It’s that simple,” Richie replied, “And it doesn’t have to be perfect. It can work here [Auditorium lobby] for the short-term as long as there is a plan in place and not wait for next April.” Richie advocated holding council’s feet to the fire.
Stryker clarified they were setting Jan. 1, 2018, as the deadline for being in a permanent location, and Richie countered, “Or even sooner.” He also said it should be a requirement that council sit in a U-shaped configuration facing the audience.
Thomas suggested council might take their charge more seriously if the committee also sent along dated expectations.
“You don’t think it’s that important already!” Richie snapped back. Eventually he agreed with setting deadlines for council of Sept. 1 for identifying the long-range location, and Oct. 2 for naming a contractor and providing a schedule for a permanent ADA-compliant location no later than Jan. 1.
Knowles said she was satisfied with the committee’s recommendation.
Regarding closed-captioning, Stryker mentioned the ADA does not require it. Richie stated, however, the city has an obligation to provide it for every meeting and it should be edited properly.