Western Tribune and Watercress Darter (Again)

I have learned something new. Now when you click on a link in my posts, it will open in a new window. If I can figure out how to change the blogger list to do this, I will, and it should make it easier to navigate around. This is only true for post starting today…I’m not going to go back and change the html on all the old posts. Sorry.

I was reminded that I failed to post my Western Tribune column this week on Wednesday, as I have been doing, so here it is:

Recently the City of Bessemer settled a lawsuit with the Federal government which was brought against the city for non-compliance with the ADA (American with Disabilities Act). This act, signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, among other things requires public buildings to provide access to those with disabilities. A resident of Bessemer was denied access to City facilities because of her disability.

My first question is this: why did it take 17 years and a federal lawsuit before Bessemer took notice that it was out of compliance with this law? Quitman Mitchell was mayor, and for the next twelve years he was unaware, indifferent to or willfully negligent in not adhering to the standards outlined. The passage of the act was big news at the time; I don’t see how the mayor could have been unaware of it. For the last five years Ed May has been mayor and still nothing has been done to bring the city in to compliance.

The city has three years to remedy the situation downtown, things like curbs and sidewalks and ramps. The Bessemer Civic Center will have seven long years to make changes in access to the stage. There is my second question: why do we have to wait seven years before our citizens with disabilities are allowed to access all of the civic center facilities? Surely an acceptable design and necessary repairs can be finished in a much shorter time.

This is really an embarrassment for our city. If a city can not provide equal access to facilities and services for the disadvantaged in the city, how do we know that the city is looking out for any of us?

Schools are public buildings and are subject to ADA regulations as well, and I wonder if Bessemer’s schools may be out of compliance also. Do disabled students have full access to all of the facilities? While Bessemer school officials are thinking about compliance with the ADA, they should consider this IDEA. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), enacted in 1975 and amended most recently in 2004, was enacted to assure that children with disabilities have every opportunity to receive a free quality public education that other children do. Are our schools compliant in this area as well, providing the teachers, resources and support to provide what is required for every student?

This might be a good time for our Board of Education officials and principles to review the current ADA and IDEA regulations and make sure we are compliant with all of them. Let’s not wait until another costly lawsuit arises, or until a caretaker of a disabled person has to file a complaint.

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Remember our friend the Watercress Darter that I brought to your attention months ago. Today Pat Byington has an editorial in the Birmingham News about the history and the importance of this little fish. Read it here: We must preserve God’s vibrant tapestry in this state As Pat brings out in his piece, Alabama certainly has a huge amount of bio-diversity, and we do have a responsibility to protect it. I especially liked his quote of the discoverer of this rare colorful fish in describing his find, “A visual treat that does something to the spirit – like a beautiful sunset.”

But its not just about the Watercress Darter, and Pat understands this. It’s about the world we live in and climate change and sustainable energy and noise pollution and smoke free public buildings and more

Then go visit the Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge here in Bessemer.

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