Celebrating Access Today: 25th Anniversary Year of the Americans with Disabilities Act

March 2, 2015


Ms. Whitley and Mr. Nelson, August 13, 2014.

Twenty-five years ago, our nation committed itself to the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities—through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is proud to play a critical role in enforcing the ADA, working towards a future in which all the doors are open to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, integration and economic self-sufficiency for persons with disabilities.  In honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, each month the Department of Justice will spotlight efforts that are opening gateways to full participation and opportunity for people with disabilities.  This month, we spotlight the stories of Connie Whitley and Jim Nelson and accessible design in Rapid City, South Dakota.

The Black Hills Works Gala is a formal event that brings nearly 800 people from the Rapid City area together to honor people with disabilities.  For Connie Whitley and Jim Nelson, who use electric wheelchairs for mobility, the gala is a “can’t miss” event.  So when Kari Thompson, the couples’ driver from Black Hill Works, found a parking spot near the entrance to the Civic Center, they were relieved.  Unfortunately, though the spot was designated as accessible, it wasn’t.  It lacked the required “access aisle,” leaving Ms. Whitley and Mr. Nelson no room to get out of the car with their wheelchairs.  Eventually, Ms. Thompson found a different spot on the other side of the Civic Center.  The three then maneuvered through snow to get around the building.

The evening’s challenges didn’t end there.  When the couple tried to enter a side entrance at the Civic Center, they found that the size of their wheelchairs required both double doors to be held open – a difficult task with only one staff person.  They faced the same issue entering the Civic Center room where the gala was taking place.  Fortunately, an acquaintance came by in time to assist.  Ms. Whitley just laughed and called it, “another adventure.”  Barriers to accessibility mean that people like Ms. Whitley and Mr. Nelson will not be able to fully benefit from events in municipal buildings, including experiencing a “can’t miss” event like the Black Hills Work Gala.

Over the next three years, experiences like Ms. Whitley’s and Mr. Nelson’s will become a thing of the past.  Rapid City and the U.S. Department of Justice have reached an agreement under Project Civic Access (PCA), the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the ADA.  One of the hallmarks of the agreement is the requirement that Rapid City will ensure that the 11 parking areas surrounding the Civic Center will comply with the ADA’s 2010 Standards for Accessible Design.

Under the agreement, the Civic Center will have the required number of designated accessible parking spaces, including van-accessible spaces.  Each space will be the appropriate size, have an access aisle and accessible signage, and be on the shortest accessible route to an accessible entrance.

Over the past 15 years, nearly 220 communities have signed agreements with the Department of Justice to ensure that their citizens with disabilities enjoy the same services, programs and activities that all others enjoy.  For information on how jurisdictions can participate in PCA, visit www.ada.gov.

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Updated September 9, 2016