More MS news articles for Oct 2001

Sparks trying to solve disabled access problems

Monday October 15th, 2001
By Steve Timko
Reno Gazette-Journal

As Laura Sheldon-Casson of Sparks drove her electric wheelchair to the front of the Sparks City Council chambers last Monday, a look of embarrassment spread across some council members faces.

The co-chairman of the Sparks Advisory Committee for the Disabled came to talk about some of the problems of handicapped access in Sparks and the wireless microphone — used as an alternative to standing at the podium — did not work.

This is the same wireless microphone that seldom works when Sparks activist David Farside, who also uses a wheelchair, addresses the council.

“I would hope you could find money in the budget for a disabled person to address you like any able-bodied person,” Sheldon-Casson told the council.

Despite the malfunction, Sheldon-Casson in an interview gave the city council and the city of Sparks as a whole good marks for handicapped access.

Multiple sclerosis required her to start using a wheelchair about six years ago and that’s when she began attending advisory committee meetings, joining about 18 months ago.

The advisory committee acts as the city’s watch dog on issues that affect the disabled, like access. One long-term project was improving handicapped access to the Sparks Century 14 Theaters built as part of the downtown redevelopment efforts.

With the advisory committee’s nudging, the theater added grab bars in its bathrooms and made paper towels available for someone using a wheelchair, Sheldon-Casson said, plus made it possible to get past the heavy bathroom doors.

Two years ago, the city also started a handicapped parking patrol made up of volunteers who issue tickets to people illegally parked in handicapped spots.

But there’s also improvements needed, she said. She told the city council about a woman who had a problem with garbage being left in her yard. Sparks police told her she needed to file a report. But the Sparks Police Department doors were too heavy for her to open.

“She couldn’t get in,” Sheldon-Casson said.

Police Chief John Dotson said the police department building has been open since 1992 and that was the first complaint about that problem that he had heard. He agreed he’d like to see some sort of assist to open the door.

The problem, city public information officer Rick Nollenberger said, is that the police department is one only of six doors on city buildings identified as needing improvement to fix handicapped access. The others are at the Victorian Avenue fire station, Sparks Municipal Court, the Parks and Recreation Department office and gymnasium at 98 Richards Way and various doors at city hall.

Farside, in an interview, said the non-working wireless microphone is a problem but he usually doesn’t want to use it because it’s not connected into the Sierra Nevada Community Access Television transmission of council meetings. A bigger problem for him is getting into the council chambers because of the heavy doors that lead directly into the chambers.

“You always have to have someone help you in and help you out,” said Farside, who characterized the Sparks council as sympathetic to disabled access.

To bring all the doors in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act standards would cost about $400,000 but the city only has $65,000 in its budget, Nollenberger said.

The Reno City Council last year spent $100,000 remodeling its chambers, including bringing it up to ADA standards. That included a new podium for public comment and new ramps for the disabled to reach the podium.

Sheldon-Casson said she uses a powered wheelchair to go to the front of the Sparks council chambers but people without powered wheelchairs would have problems making it up the steep ramps to leave. Farside said Dotson once pushed him up the Sparks council chamber’s steep ramp.

She’d also like a table in the Sparks council chambers.

“I still need a table when I want to pound my fist when I want to make a point and to put my paperwork down,” Sheldon-Casson said.
The Sparks Marina Park has wonderful handicapped access, Sheldon-Casson said. There is a pier for people who want to fish from a wheelchair and the bathrooms offer great access as well, she said.

Sheldon-Casson loves to fish but prefers the Truckee River. There are places along the Truckee River where people in wheelchairs can fish, but she’s keeping them a secret, she said.

“Are you catching any fish?” Mayor Tony Armstrong asked her at last week’s meeting.

“Now that’s another project we need to talk about,” Sheldon-Casson replied.

© Reno Gazette-Journal