Lawsuit prompts Janesville to improve handicap accessibility

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Jake Magee
Thursday, November 2, 2017

JANESVILLE—The settlement of a lawsuit that claimed Janesville parking lots and parks didn't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act already has led to changes in the city.

The Janesville City Council voted Oct. 27 to pay $16,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by Amy Bleile, a Whitewater resident with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair. The lawsuit filed in February in U.S. District Court in Madison alleged parking lots in downtown Janesville and certain parts of Traxler and Rockport parks discriminated against handicapped individuals.

Bleile's Alabama-based attorney, Edward Zwilling, said he retained a consulting firm to survey the city and list barriers for handicapped people to public entities.

"By and large, the vast majority of the issues in this case concerned parking lots," he said.

A few public lots in downtown Janesville, where everything slopes toward the Rock River, are too steep for ADA compliance. Steep slopes can make it difficult to open sliding van doors or for wheelchair-bound residents to safely exit vehicles, city engineer Mike Payne said.

Janesville officials and Zwilling agreed it wasn't practical to regrade lots to be ADA compliant.

"That's obviously a challenge in downtown," Payne said.

Instead, the parties compromised, and Janesville relocated handicapped parking stalls to more level parts of lots "to make it as close to compliance as possible," Payne said.

Other stalls downtown and in public parks had to be widened and restriped, and some signs designating handicap stalls had to be raised, Payne said.

At Traxler Park, crews poured a new sidewalk to provide a path from the parking lot to the playground. No wheelchair-accessible path to the playground existed before, Payne said.

In the park's mens restroom, a handicap-accessible stall's door hinges must be reversed from the door's left side to the right to allow easier access, according to the settlement agreement.

Picnic tables will be altered to allow for wheelchair seating. One end of a small percentage of park picnic tables will be extended so wheelchair-bound residents can sit at them, according to the agreement.

At Rockport Park, the city adjusted the height of a bathroom mirror and replaced a faucet with lever-style handles that don't require gripping or twisting to operate, Zwilling said.

Not every part of every park has to be fully ADA-compliant. For instance, hiking paths at public parks don't have to be handicap accessible, although it's great if they can be without destroying natural beauty, he said.

"That would be very, very difficult," Payne said.

No features of a public park should be cut off to handicapped residents. If a park has a playground, a handicapped resident needs to be able to park and reach that area, which is why the settlement required officials make a new path in Traxler Park, Zwilling said.

"We want to make sure someone in a wheelchair can park and access all those things (at a park)," Zwilling said.

Director of Public Works Paul Woodard estimated the improvements cost about $10,000, making the entire lawsuit cost the city about $26,500.

The settlement money went toward attorney fees, costs of litigation and expert fees. Bleile wasn't awarded damages, Zwilling said.

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