Challenges remain: Capitol accessibility improvements praisedby Jan Wilms // April 10th, 2017
Renovation of Minnesota’s capitol is nearly complete. The verdict on accessibility by members of the disability community is primarily positive, with a few things that could be improved.
Curt Yoakum, assistant commissioner in the state’s Department of Administration, said a staff team recently toured the restored capitol with Minnesota State Council on Disability (MSCOD). The capitol exceeds ADA requirements, but MSCOD has requested additional changes. Those are currently under review by project architects, contractors, tenants including the House and Senate, facility managers, project managers and others. “We’ll continue working on this as we continue working with MSCOD staff to continually improve all of the buildings within the capitol complex,” he said.
Changes include everything from power door openers to low-pile rugs that are easier for wheelchairs to travel on. Touring one of the Senate hearing rooms, Margot Imdieke Cross of MSCOD demonstrated how easy it is to pull out regular chairs and move a wheelchair in place, up to the table.
“There’s a 27-inch clearance required for the testifying table, and this comes in at 28 inches,” she said, proving her point with a measuring tape. “There is 25 inches of knee and toe clearance as well.”
Parking is another issue MSCOD and activists worked on. Imdieke Cross points out the additional parking, with 20 disability parking spots near the Senate building. “We negotiated for these,” she said. “They had taken away so much public parking, and with Homeland Security no public parking is allowed under the buildings.”
Todd Kemery of the Paralyzed Vets of America has been in a wheelchair for 35 years. Accessibility is one of his passions. “One of the biggest benefits with the renovation has been the parking set aside for the handicapped,” he said.
Kemery has praise for other changes. He added that Senate Building is wide open with easy access, and the ability to testify in the capitol is much easier.
“My only concern might be signage,” he said. “But other than that, everything is good.”
One of the biggest complaints before capitol renovations was bathroom accessibility. There are now men’s, women’s and family bathrooms on each floor of the Senate building, all accessible. The capitol features men’s and women’s bathrooms on all levels and a family bathroom on all but the second level.
Imdieke Cross said a bathroom that meets handicapped standards has a bar on each side of the toilet, and space in front and to the side. “This provides for variations in wheelchairs,” she said. There is also space if another person is needed to assist.
Accessible spaces are reserved in capitol conference rooms and dining area. There is a new elevator for public use.
“The gathering area in the basement has an accessible podium,” she said. “And the office space is wonderful.”
Disability advocates didn’t get every change sought. “We were on their radar,” Imdieke Cross said, “but we were in competition with the historic organizations and with safety folks. We wanted all entrances accessible, but we had to negotiate and compromise. We went nose to nose with (historians) on the exterior of the chambers, and we didn’t win.”
The traditional entrance with its steps was kept as is, with a back entrance to the chambers that is accessible.
Challenges remain. Another area Imdieke Cross thinks needs more attention is table placement for people with disabilities in the snack area. A back corner counter is the accessible option, compared to high tables in the room’s center.
Power door openers are another concern. Hearing rooms have them but a public exhibit area doesn’t. “This area is intended for public use,” she said. “We need to get power buttons or have the door opened early and kept open for the entire day. My biggest issue right now is the public space on the third floor.”
She said some are concerned that not all sizes of chairs may fit in all the hearing rooms. Imdieke Cross explained that in public areas of the capitol, Title 2 of the American Disability Act (ADA) makes sure the public is insured of access to activities. For employees, who are governed by Title 1 of the ADA, accessibility is specific for the employee who requests it. “There are fewer power door openers in the employee area because they have not been requested,” she said.