Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
A new report issued by Albuquerque’s Office of Inspector General blasts city officials for what it calls a “systemic failure” to make city buildings and other infrastructure accessible to people with disabilities, saying that officials appear to have a “laissez-faire attitude” when it comes to complying with the federal civil rights law.
“While progress has been made in compliance with the (American with Disabilities Act), it is insufficient – the city has had over a quarter of a century to comply with the law and there are still thousands of violations,” Inspector General David T. Harper wrote in the report, which was issued Thursday. “Funding should never have been the main factor – ADA compliance should have been the paramount factor in capital improvement decisions.”
Mayor Richard Berry’s administration disputes the conclusions reached by the IG, saying the city has made ADA compliance a priority for new projects and has been setting aside money to bring existing facilities into compliance.
The IG’s Office notes that ADA compliance issues include problems such as buckled sidewalks, technology violations, access to the bosque, parking spaces and signs in Braille.
Among the concerns raised in the report are that people have been injured around construction sites because they haven’t been roped off and bathrooms at the zoo are not in full compliance with the ADA. The report also says that there isn’t captioning for City Council meetings available through Government Channel 16 and there isn’t an American Sign Language interpreter present at council meetings.
The report has been sent to the mayor, city councilors and other officials, though city officials are not required to act on any of the recommendations.
City officials note that most of Albuquerque’s facilities were built before the ADA was enacted in 1990.
“This Administration has diligently worked to make new and existing public facilities and projects accessible to all,” Chief Operating Officer Michael Riordan said in an emailed statement. “The City is ADA compliant in every new project we have constructed such as ART, Civic Plaza, the Bosque Trail and Officer Dan Webster Park. We continue to recognize the need to retrofit and upgrade preexisting infrastructure and amenities, which is why we have been committed to setting aside funding to do so in each budget.”
Webster Park, near Wyoming and Copper NE, has features for children who use wheelchairs and those in the autism spectrum. The city also recently finished a $2 million ADA-compliant trail through the bosque.
According to the Mayor’s Office, significant ADA upgrades have been included as part of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, which will transform Central Avenue into a mass transit corridor with a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and bus stops.
As part of the project, 359 noncompliant curb ramps have been replaced; 354 noncompliant drive pads have been reconstructed; all pedestrian crossings were widened to 10 feet throughout the project, and to 12 feet at the stops, allowing room for wheelchairs to pass one another; sidewalks have been widened projectwide to a minimum of six feet; 60 audible and vibratory notifications were added to station and crosswalk crossings; and tactile notifications have been installed at all 19 bus stops, the Mayor’s Office said.
But the Office of Inspector General, an independent arm of the city, concluded after a review that Albuquerque officials could have and should have done more to bring the city in compliance. The review done over six months was undertaken in response to multiple concerns raised by the Albuquerque ADA community.
The report notes that the city has undertaken capital improvement projects that cost millions, money that could have been diverted to ADA compliance projects. It says that other cities, such as Honolulu, have made complying with the ADA a priority.
“This is about city leadership making ADA compliance a top priority and listening to the disabled community when making decisions about future capital improvement projects,” the report says. “The city is at risk of civil lawsuits and the possibility of a (Department of Justice) investigation.”
The report notes that other cities in New Mexico, including Santa Fe, Gallup and Taos, have been the subject of DOJ investigations and settlements over ADA issues.
The report also says that there appears to be “a degree of environmental injustice within the city” when it comes to ADA compliance.
“That is, during the random inspection process, it seems certain neighborhoods have higher degrees of non-compliance with regard to curb ramps and public access ways – such as severely buckled sidewalks,” the report says.