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Millions needed to make city disabled-friendly

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By Audrey Esther and Darren Brown, News9.com INsite Team

Since 1990, when then-President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, local governments have had a tough time keeping up with ADA requirements. Oklahoma City officials are now working to become more compliant with the law and avoid a potential federal lawsuit.

"There's many city offices and state offices at the state Capitol that are not accessible to somebody in a wheelchair," said Scott Ellis, government relations director of Paralyzed Veterans of America Mid-America Chapter.

A year ago, city officials hired an ADA consultant to take an in-depth look at the city's disability access. The consultant reviewed 250 public places and in specific detail listed all ADA infractions and possible solutions for each location.

"His job was to look at everything and say if every facility, if every bathroom, if every parking lot was in total compliance, what would it take," said Paula Falkenstein, general services director for Oklahoma City.

Falkenstein said an exact cost is difficult to estimate, but the approximate cost for just parts and labor is $5 to $6 million. City public information officer Kristy Yager said most of the updates will be paid for through the 2007 $835 million bond issue.

"This is such a massive project. It is time consuming and we all have to look at ourselves and our programming and make real choices," Yager said.

According to the review, the cost for the Oklahoma City Zoo to be in total ADA compliance will be $44,000. AT&T Bricktown Ballpark's ADA price tag will run $68,000 and City Hall will cost $51,000.

The total to make the Ford Center completely ADA compliant is about $134,000.

"When the Ford Center is built, it will be ADA accessible and it will pass the Department of Justice test," Yager said.

However, the law does not require the city fix every violation.

"What the law requires is that our programs services and activities, when viewed in their entirety, are accessible by the people with disabilities," Falkenstein said.

Next week the Department of Justice will review the lengthy report with city officials and map out a timeline for the city to become more compliant with the law.

"We're going to escort them around, show them what we're doing how we're improving things and they can make the judgment," Yager said.

The four main areas that need to be more accessible: parking, entryways, bathrooms and sidewalks.

"We've made people aware. City departments are working harder on it, we've just raised our consciousness," Falkenstein said. "This is something that we need to be doing, because it's the right thing to do."

Scott Ellis, who was part of a local committee that reviewed the report, said city facilities must be updated.

"If the building is not accessible you're effectively telling someone you're not welcome in our building," he said. "You can't come in because there's no way to come in."

Ellis said every citizen should care about disability access.

"There's no guarantee," he said. "We all age and we may end up in a wheelchair tomorrow."

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