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Mobile Hotspots: A look at accessibility in the county for those with mobility impairments

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 By PETER SAWYER 
psawyer@lafollettepress.com

Patricia Myers is a temporary resident at Cumberland Village — a short- and long-term care facility for seniors in LaFollette—where she’s been undergoing physical and occupational rehabilitation for the past month.

Myers, an elderly local woman, was hospitalized a month ago, after she experienced overall decline in strength and endurance. Her neighbor found her unconscious at her apartment. She remembers little about the incident, but began therapy at Cumberland Village after being treated and released from LaFollette Medical Center.  

Now, her daily routine involves walking on different types of terrain—including sidewalk and gravel. 

Hopefully, it will help Myers adjust to operating independently when she eventually returns to her apartment. 

In the past few weeks, Myers has already made great strides in her rehabilitation. 

After being initially confined to a wheelchair, she’s now aided only by a walker.

 “This place is easily accessible,” she said of Cumberland Village. “You can get almost anywhere you want to.”

But other sites across the county aren’t so easily accessible for those like Myers who suffer from mobility impairments. 

The LaFollette Press recently observed more than a dozen public places around the county — including schools, government buildings and recreational areas — and analyzed them for ease and accessibility. Reporters counted handicapped parking spaces near buildings and identified ramp access and other issues that could impede some visitors. 

Most sites across the county provided adequate handicapped parking spaces and ramps to make facilities more accessible. 

Others did not. 

Of all the places observed, the only place that seemed to offer no accommodations for handicapped people was the Jacksboro Post Office, where there appears to be no handicapped parking spots. There also doesn’t appear to be a ramp at the facility to help handicapped people who can’t step onto the sidewalk.

Such accommodations are important to Myers and others in the county with mobile impairments.

Myers said she typically frequents Food Lion and Riggs Drug Store and must be dropped off because she doesn’t drive. Even without her walker, she often relies on ramps to access the businesses because she doesn’t want to risk a chance of falling.

“Even though someone doesn’t appear to be handicapped, doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from the (handicapped features),” said John Bowers, Cumberland Village administrator. “What you see isn’t always what you get.”

And here’s a sampling of what you see across Campbell County when it comes to equipping facilities for mobility impairments. 

 

Findings of the investigation

• At the Caryville Municipal Building, there are two designated handicapped parking spots. While a ramp provides access to the entrance of the building, an island supporting the base of a streetlight partially obstructs direct access to the ramp from the handicapped parking spaces.

• At Cove Lake State Park there appears to be five handicapped sports in the central parking lot near the walking paths and picnic areas. Sidewalks lead directly from these spots to picnic areas and playgrounds. But the walking trails are across the parking lot from the five parking spots, requiring handicapped people to cross the parking lot to access them. There doesn’t appear to be a sidewalk providing access from this area to restroom facilities. But there is another parking lot by shelter two where restrooms are located. At the pool, there are six parking spots by a ramp. People can use the ramp to go to the pavilion, or the pool.

• At Caryville Elementary School, there are two handicapped-parking spaces in the lot behind the school. A crosswalk and ramp provide access to the rear entrance. Classrooms provide accommodations for handicapped students.

• There are three handicapped-parking spaces at the Social Security Administration office. One is located on the side of the building, and a ramp descends from the parking lot to a side door. Two other spots are located near the front entrance. The sidewalk slopes to the level of the parking lot, allowing handicapped people with access to the sidewalk.

• The Campbell County Chamber of Commerce has designated two spots near the front entrance for handicapped parking. There is also a ramp to help them access the sidewalk.

• The Campbell County Health Department has three parking spots next to the front entrance. The sidewalk is sloped to the level of the parking lot, providing handicapped people with better access.

• The Campbell County Election Commission has two handicapped parking spots and a ramp that provides access to the building.

• The Campbell County Courthouse provides two handicapped spots, which are located behind the courthouse. But construction partially obstructed one of the spots when the LaFollette Press made observations. The two spots next to the courthouse and the two spots in front of the election commission are very close to each other. There is a ramp that provides access to the to the side door of the courthouse.

• There are two parking spaces in front of the Jacksboro Municipal Building and Library. There is a ramp that provides access to the sidewalk that leads to the front entrance.

• Jacksboro Middle School provides handicapped parking spots, handicapped unloading zone and a ramp for handicapped people to access the sidewalk. There are also special education rooms with wide doors and special bathrooms with bars for handicapped students. There are also handicapped stalls in the main bathrooms. In the gymnasium, a ramp allows access to the main stage.

• There are multiple access points at Campbell County High School. Five handicapped parking spots are located close to two ramps on the East side of the school. One ramp is at a walkway, and the other is at a school entrance. Two other ramps are on the west side of the school. There are also two handicapped-parking spots on the west side.

• Splash Park in LaFollette offers just one handicapped-parking spot. The parking lot is level with the sidewalk, so a ramp doesn’t appear to be necessary; but some may have difficulties accessing the equipment because of slippery conditions. 

• At the LaFollette Community Center Gym 1 there is one handicapped-parking spot next to sidewalk. The sidewalk is level with the parking lot to make access easier for the mobility impaired.

• At the LaFollette Public Library a ramp descends from the one handicapped-parking space toward the library entrance.

• At LaFollette City Hall there is a handicapped parking spot at the street corner. A ramp leads to the front entrance of city hall.

 

What the law requires

According to regulations in the Americans with Disabilities Act, public places must maintain features that allow access to handicapped people. Public facilities are also required to remove barriers for the handicapped, which includes installing ramps, making curb cuts in sidewalks and entrances and widening doors.

The ADA also includes provisions for older buildings—facilities built prior to 1992—in small towns. When providing access to handicapped people would affect the services offered at a facility—such as at historical buildings—or when the cost of providing handicapped features is too much, programs can be relocated to more accessible facilities.  Organizations may also provide services in other ways that meet ADA regulations.

All the schools in the Campbell County School system are accessible to handicapped students except Jellico Elementary School—which is receiving electronic lifts, according to district administrators.  

Those students with mobility impairments at Jellico Elementary School have had to use stairs to access the cafeteria and gymnasium.

 “As the rules change, as the need arises, we do whatever we need to make it accessible and meet all the codes,” Director of Schools Donnie Poston said. “If it’s not in the budget, we try to do it within our capital outlay, or look for additional funding.”

But the school system is fortunate because there are no multi-level schools in the county.

Many of the public buildings in LaFollette provide ramps and handicapped parking—such as the police department and library. But the fire hall doesn’t. If somebody needs help accessing any buildings, they can call 562-4961, and somebody will help them, LaFollette Mayor Mike Stanfield said. As sidewalks are replaced in the future, the city plans to make them more accessible to the handicapped, Stanfield said.

Despite deficiencies, nobody has complained about the handicapped features at Caryville Municipal Building, according to Mayor Chris Stanley.

“Nobody’s asked us to improve it,” he said. “I believe that meets the standard codes.”

Stanley, as well as other local officials, believe everyone in the county should have greater access to buildings in Campbell County. 

“We want to do everything we can to let handicapped people have access,” he said.