Willis Washington, The City Sentinel
When it comes to implementing our future development plans for Oklahoma City residence; are we planning appropriately for the population growth of the disabled? In recent years the number of individuals with disabilities has grown exponentially. In 2016, the overall percentage (prevalence rate) of people with a disability of all ages in Oklahoma was 16.4 percent.
In other words, in 2016 (632,400 of the 3,861,200) individuals of all ages in Oklahoma reported one or more disabilities. Among the six types of disabilities identified in the American Community Survey (ACS), the highest (prevalence rate) number by category was for “Ambulatory Disability,” which was (9.5) percent.
In December 2019, Oklahoma City passed a MAPS 4 penny sales tax that will raise $978 Million dollars over the next 8 years to fund 16 projects throughout Oklahoma City. MAPS 4 is a debt-free public improvement program funded by a temporary penny sales tax; that has become a very innovative model for making and implementing city improvements.
Voters thus allocated this funding for 16 specific projects: Parks ($140 million),Youth Centers ($110 million), Senior Wellness Centers ($30 million), Mental Health and Addiction ($40 million), Family Justice Center operated by Palomar ($38 million), Transit ($87 million), Sidewalks, bike lanes, trails and streetlights ($87 million), Homelessness ($50 million), Chesapeake Energy Arena and related facilities ($115 million), Animal Shelter ($38 million), Fairgrounds Coliseum ($63 million), Diversion Hub ($17 million), Innovation District ($71 million), Freedom Center and Clara Luper Civil Rights Center ($25 million), Beautification ($30 million), Multipurpose Stadium ($37 million).
I find myself asking if we are spending this money wisely and efficiently. In the area of Public Housing, Community Development, and Urban Development: We are using the American’s with Disabilities Act or ADA Standards for developments that will be used or offered to the public. The ADA was established and signed July 26, 1990. It was amended in September of 2008, updated in 2010, and the final rules went into effect on March 15, 2011.
The current ADA standards are a great starting point; but they have become the bare minimum standards that we are legally required to meet. If we continue to plan and develop using only the bare minimum required standards “we are not doing enough.” The standard baseline of ADA standards gives us guidelines and perimeters to follow as we allocate the use of funding like Oklahoma City’s Maps 4 funding; but at some point we need to drill down and focus a little more on the end users of this funding.
We have individuals with multiple disabilities that are recognized and acknowledged in our society and local communities. “However we cannot continue to categorize or treat them like a one size fits all solution.”
Although it will be very challenging to address these different needs for Public Housing, Community Development, and Urban Development our oversight and responsibility does not end there.
It actually leads us into other areas like transportation, employment, sustainable living, and healthcare; just to name a few areas where it is becoming increasingly more important for us to start thinking “big picture.” We need less of “this is how we have been doing it so that’s good enough!”
My goal and challenge is to get more of our Community Leaders, Builders, Developers, Real Estate Brokers, Realtors, City Planners, Architects, Attorneys, and Politicians to transition their thought process. To transition their view of building for right now using today’s disabled population numbers and focusing on the long-term planning and development integrations and their impacts on communities and city’s differently. By looking into the future from the perspective of specifically planning in 5, 10, 15, and 20 year increments. Shifting our focus to correctly projecting and addressing the disabled population growth and needs during these periods. Utilizing the people that will be using these developments as the standard in which we measure development, and plan for the future.
So the real question becomes; are we asking our City Planners, Construction Builders, Developers, Architects, ADA Coordinators, City Leaders, Bankers, and Brokers the right questions?
Can we do more?
1. What will we do; as we allocate our approved funding to ensure that we are properly planning for our future needs?
2. What is the true cost of not doing it; or getting it right the first time?
3. What actions and steps are we going to take moving forward?
4. Is it time for us to amend the ADA to properly reflect the disabled population growth and ADA requirements in all areas?
I would like to propose some of the following solutions and improvements in the areas we should consider adjusting when using our current ADA standards and requirements for:
- increasing the number of disabled parking spots
- increasing the number of hotel bedrooms
- increasing the standard doorway minimum size to 36 inches
- increasing the standard number of wheelchair roll-in accessible toilet water closets
- increasing the hallway and sidewalk widths to accompany companion animals
- integrate wheelchair accessible bathroom water closets within our transportation system like buses, airplanes, trains and the public restrooms associated with them
- increasing our sidewalk widths at recreational parks to accommodate a minimum of two wheelchairs with animal companions to pass and traveling in different directions
- integrate additional wheelchair accessible seating in churches, auditoriums, stadiums, and other publicly used facilities as we build and develop in the future.
I understand that some facilities such as churches and privately built homes are not required to meet the ADA compliance standards; but doesn’t it just make common sense to integrate these standards in our future building and developments?
NOTE: Willis Washington is an ADA ICC Compliance Inspector and Certified Aging in Place Specialist also known as CAPS and has completed levels I, II, & III with the Oklahoma State Homebuilders Association and currently works for A to Z Commercial and Residential Inspections. He was recently accepted into the Oklahoma University Graduate School Degree Program to become a Regional City Planner. This analysis first appeared earlier this year in The City Sentinel newspaper’s print edition, where his stories appear frequently. A prior analysis from him posted online for The City Sentinel can be read here.