The Americans With Disability Act has been the law of the land for more than a decade, but only now the city of Washington and Daviess County have approved plans to come into compliance with it.
Both the Washington City Council and the Daviess County Commissioners approved their respective transition plans at their last meetings, but they have been more than two years in the making.
"This is a federal mandate that was put into place several years ago to make buildings more accessible," said chairman of the county's ADA committee Paul Goss.
"This is really something that should have been done long ago, but no one was doing it," said ADA committee member Phil Cornelius.
The change came when cities and counties were told by the Indiana Department of Transportation that if they hoped to continue getting federal road grants that they would have to put an ADA transition plan into place. "When we fill out an application form now for any kind of highway grant, one of the first questions on the form is; do you have an ADA plan?" said Cornelius. "They got out the stick on us."
That stick has led to piles of plans, proposals and expected projects to make the city and county more accessible to the public. The Daviess County transition plan fills one large three-ring binder and cost $18,900 to assemble. It mostly deals with the county's buildings.
"The courthouse, the county highway building, the airport, the extension office and health department are all listed and the plan has specific items to deal with the needs in those buildings," said Goss.
The city's plan is three times as large and cost $47,000 because it also has a large inventory of sidewalks. "Ours is much more extensive," said Washington Mayor Joe Wellman. "We have every sidewalk photographed, inventoried and prioritized. It not only includes the sidewalks it also recognizes access ramps at crosswalks."
While the city and county have the costs for the plan they do not know how much it will cost to implement all of it. "Right now, there is no mandate from the feds to get the work completed," said Cornelius.
"We have not sat down and made a list and created priorities for the work to be done," added Goss. "It is too costly to do everything at once. I think we would want to do those things that have the biggest impact for the least cost first. The budget will be the driver in how quickly it will all be implemented."
The city has put together plans to address the sidewalk issues. "The council put a $50,000 item in the budget for sidewalk improvement," said Wellman. "We have prioritized the sidewalks that need to be upgraded. Those closest to government, school, and medical facilities will have the highest priority. The money will be used in cost sharing projects with the property owners to upgrade sidewalks."
One of the questions the county will be facing is how to comply with the ADA plan at the courthouse, especially when you consider how that will mix with historical, architectural and security concerns. "That certainly complicates things," said Cornelius.
"It can be done," added Goss. "It will just take some more planning and effort."
Both the city and county have already made some progress toward ADA compliance. The old City Hall now has ramps and an elevator. The sidewalks downtown meet federal regulations. The courthouse has a ramp and elevator, but that isn't everything that may have to be done. "This is also about parking lots, restrooms, and the heights of counters," said Goss. "It's about removing the barriers that people experience when they try to access their government. If we can remove the physical barriers then it's the right thing to do."
Local officials say they believe the need for more accessibility will grow in the coming years in Daviess County and Washington. 'People are getting older in Daviess County," said Cornelius.
"We've already seen private business, churches and medical facilities deal with accessibility," added Goss. "In the future more of the population will be needing these accomodations."
The plans have taken a lot of work to compile and carrying out what they have identified will require spending a lot of dollars but the people who helped assemble the plans believe they are worth it. "This isn't just for visitors it's also for employees," said Goss. "It was a major undertaking, but it was the right thing to do."
"This is the right thing to do," added Wellman. "We're ready to move forward."