Back in the 1970s, the Juneau International Airport was a nightmare for travelers with disabilities. The sidewalk was not wide enough for a wheelchair. The whole airport had one Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) and it was in the security office. There were no reading boards for the hearing-impaired to know if their flights were delayed.
During the past decade, airport officials have worked with the city's Americans with Disabilities Act Committee to better meet the needs of people with disabilities. Because of the various improvements, the airport received a certificate of accessibility from the Juneau Chamber of Commerce for accommodating people with disabilities.
The sidewalks are now wide enough for two wheelchairs. A sensor in the elevator ensures that the doors will stay open until the wheelchair is out of the elevator. A ramp next to the elevator allows people to push their wheelchairs to the airport's Glacier Restaurant.
After a woman fell from her wheelchair about six years ago, the airport painted white stripes on curb ramps so people using wheelchairs would know where the curb ramps start.
For people with hearing difficulties, the airport has three TDDs - one near the phone booth outside the Glacier Lounge on the second floor, one near the bag claim area on the first floor and the other next to the visitor information counter. The hearing-impaired can press buttons and be automatically connected to 17 hotels around town.
Three reading boards are located at visible places - one right in front of the Wings of Alaska airline counter on the first floor, one near the bag claim area and another outside the Glacier Lounge.
"If people need additional assistance, they can call the airport ahead of time. We will do everything we can to help," said Greg Jerue, the airport's building maintenance supervisor.
The city's Americans with Disabilities Act Committee is instrumental in making the changes.
"Many of the nine people on the committee are people with disabilities. They can try things out and give the airport feedback from the user's perspective," said John Kern, general manager of Capital Transit.
The committee still makes occasional tours around the airport to make sure the airport can do better. In a recent tour, they identified several areas the airport could improve.
After Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, parking lots for the handicapped immediately in front of the airport were removed and became waiting places for taxis and shuttle buses. Now people with disabilities have to travel 271 feet from the short-term parking lot to the airport building and 430 feet from the long-term parking lot. One committee member, Earl Clark, actually spent 30 minutes pushing his wheelchair from the parking lot to the airport building.
The route from the parking lot to the airport is dangerous because it cuts in front of the parking lot's entrance.
The committee suggests the airport relocate the two parking spaces reserved for the governor and make them parking for the handicapped. The governor's parking spots, which are adjacent to the building, are only 120 feet away.
"The governor can walk," said committee member Pam Guy.
Airport manager Allan Hesse said the airport is willing to make many improvements, but this one will be difficult.
"After Sept. 11, there was a restriction over unauthorized parking within 300 feet. Although the restriction was lifted, we don't know if it will be imposed again," Hesse said.
Guy said the committee will keep working with the airport to solve the parking problem.
"You get more when you are nice to them," she said.