Capitol accessibility upgrades expected next year

Local News

Those without disabilities might not think much about the difficulties with doors in the Capitol — like how hard they can be to open.

“If they’re pushing this, it has to be less than five pounds,” Facility Management Director John Boyle said.

Or if they’re wide enough to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act standard of 36 inches.

“But each one of these doors is 30 inches,” Boyle said, pointing to doors that are too narrow.

Or if the knob has a lever for those who might not be able to grip the handle.

“You can see this lever is brand new, and we just replaced that,” Boyle said, showing a newly installed doorknob with a lever.

Royce Schultze, who’s been coming to the Capitol for decades to advocate for those with disabilities, knows these issues first hand.

“They’re too narrow that you can’t get a chair through, or if you can you’re hitting the sides, making a bunch of noise,” Schultze, who’s the executive director of Dakota Center for Independent Living, said.

But it’s not just the doors.

Signs don’t have braille, rooms lack hearing devices and there aren’t family bathrooms so those with an opposite sex helper have access.

Boyle has been working to fix some of these issues, thanks to newly approved funding for upgrades.

“There are some deficiencies that we definitely need to address,” Boyle said.

Lawmakers this past session approved $750,000 to make changes.

“It’s very important to the individuals that need these accessibility issues addressed. For the person that has no disability, it’s no issue at all, but for those individuals, it can be very difficult,” Boyle said.

The law has an emergency clause, meaning it could take effect as soon as it was signed into law, but the progress has been slower than Schultze expected.

“I was under the impression with the emergency clause they could get going on this right away, so yeah it’s a little frustrating that nothing’s been done since then,” Schultze said.

Boyle says there are many steps in the process, from getting an architect familiar with the ADA to point out the changes needed to having lawmakers approve the changes to getting a bid for a construction company.

Plus, with lumber and supply shortages, changes won’t happen until early next year.

Regardless of the delay, Schultze says it’ll be an improvement.

“It’s going to be really nice to actually get into doors without waiting for somebody to open it up for you. It’s going to give us the independence to come and go as we want instead of waiting for someone else,” Schultze said.

A panel of lawmakers will meet on Sept. 30 to vote on the changes.

Schultze also pointed out that these changes won’t just benefit those with disabilities, but make it easier for anyone in the Capitol to get around.

The project has to be completed before the next legislative session in 2023.

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