City efforts lauded 15 years after disabilities act passed

Juneau had Access Task force before Congress passed federal law

Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Kevin Gadsey said Juneau's accessibility is one major reason he moved to the city about a year ago.

Gadsey, who works for the Southeast Alaska Independent Living, said it is difficult to cruise his hometown, Nashville, Tenn., in his wheelchair.

"Sometimes the sidewalks just end without a ramp for me to go down," said Gadsey, a member of the city's Americans with Disabilities Act Committee.

As the nation celebrates the 15th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, residents with disabilities say they appreciate the city's efforts to include them in the community.

Juneau established a disabled citizens and staff Access Task Force two years before Congress passed the Americans with Disability Act.

All the city buildings have wheelchair ramps. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call 911 with a TDD (telecommunication device for the deaf) and operators are trained to answer their phones.

Each voting precinct in Juneau has a booth that meets the height of a wheelchair. People who cannot go to the voting booths can call the city to have the ballot sent to their house. Election workers read the ballot to blind people.

Juneau residents with disabilities are not left out in recreation. The fishing platform at Wayside Park on Channel Drive allows people with disabilities to drive their vehicles down to the platform and fish. Eaglecrest Ski Area has a disabled skier program and is home to monoskier Joe Tompkins, who represented the United States in the Winter Paralympics in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice recognized Juneau as one of the most accessible cities in the nation.

Sara Boesser, a city inspector who reviews the accessibility part in building permits, said despite the recognition, making the city more accessible is an ongoing effort.

For example, as Yaakoosge Daakahidi alternative high school is switching places with the Juneau School District's central office, the city is making the building's restrooms on the first floor accessible to wheelchairs. Next summer, the city will add an elevator in the building.

The city is installing strobes in fire alarms so people who are deaf or hard of hearing will know when a fire breaks out. The city also will provide more accessible parking spaces at harbor parking lots.

Gadsey said improving access to people with disabilities is not only the city's responsibility but also the whole community's.

"It's about equal access and equal opportunity to everything in our community," Gadsey said.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at

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