A wheelchair-bound Bexley resident’s struggle to get around town and to public meetings has city officials rethinking the lack of handicap accessibility at city hall.
"You need to make a permanent change to the city council meeting locations," advised City Attorney James Gross, at an Oct. 23 council meeting held at Jeffrey Mansion at the request of resident Dolores Straight.
Handicapped residents have no way to reach the second-floor city council chambers, since the building has no elevator or wheelchair lift.
This also creates a problem for people who need to attend other city meetings or the mayor’s court that is held in the same room, Gross pointed out.
Straight came to council to inform representatives of the difficulties she and others have in getting area businesses and other buildings, because of the lack of sidewalk ramps.
The resident said she used to attend meetings before being confined to a wheelchair. "I would like to attend again. But I don’t want to have to fight to get here."
She first brought up her concerns in April, and since then one handicap access project has been completed.
"It needs to go a little faster than that," Straight said.
It is particularly difficult to move around Bexley in the winter, according to Straight, because many businesses shovel snow onto the sidewalks, making them impassable for people in wheelchairs.
This past winter, Straight said she became stuck in front of one location for 45 minutes.
Because people are used to her friendly wave, when she signaled for help they only waved back, including one police officer.
One foot pedal on her motorized wheelchair, her only mode of transportation, has been knocked off while trying to get over a curb.
Some sidewalks ramps are at an angle that is difficult to climb, and they freeze up in cold weather, she said. Straight has been thrown off her chair and into the street after encountering an icy ramp.
Some new businesses aren’t providing convenient access or aren’t putting up signs indicating where the access is located, Straight informed council. When she visited Mozart’s on Main Street, a construction worker had to tell her to go to the back of the building, where her progress was further impeded by more workers.
Plants on railings, while beautiful, can present another barrier, Straight added, hitting people at wheelchair level in the face and blocking their view of oncoming pedestrians.
Straight said other people in Bexley want to attend public meetings, but are afraid to complain.
Gross acknowledged that this is the first time he can recall a council meeting being shifted to the mansion to accommodate a handicap request, possibly because residents are reluctant to make such a request.
Councilman Matt Lampke suggested that meetings could be scheduled quarterly at Jeffrey Mansion.
But the mansion, with its lack of space and poor acoustics, is not an adequate place to hold a meeting, Gross said to an audience that spilled out into the hallway from the dining room. The adjacent room was occupied by a yoga session.
"We need to look at what is the adequacy of what we are doing," Gross said. "Something other than a band-aid is needed."
Councilwoman Robyn Jones asserted that an elevator needs to be installed at city hall, but Councilman Rick Weber responded that this does not solve the immediate problem.
Mayor David Madison said he would contact churches, synagogues, schools and the library as possible alternative meeting sites. It was later announced that the Nov. 13 council and committee meetings would take place at the Bexley Library.
Gross concluded that a plan to use the existing police station as a public meeting building, once a new station is constructed, would solve the problem.
That use is one option being considered by the city. Officials are looking at moving the police department and service garage to Sheridan Avenue.
As for dealing with snow-clogged sidewalks, letters are sent to businesses every year reminding owners of their obligation to keep the pathways clear, reported David Long, director of building services.
The mayor commented that the letters probably need to be more strongly worded.
Violations should be reported to the code enforcement office, Long said.