By Beth Brenneman and Lucas Grossi
In this last year, Disability Rights Montana continued to monitor the progress Montana counties have made to improve accessibility in their programs and services through our ongoing County Services Project.
Unfortunately, even though it has been more than 20 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, in Montana, there are still accessibility barriers to services in some counties. These barriers can prevent Montanans with disabilities from exercising even the most basic of their civil rights.
Through a system of identifying accessibility issues with county service locations and then working with counties to improve access, DRM is helping to improve the lives of Montana citizens.
We have been conducting accessibility surveys of the county buildings and services in Montana since 2004. Each time we have used an accessibility survey based on the prevailing federal standard in place at the time of the survey, the most recent of which is the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2010 ADA Standards of Accessible Design.
Our surveys include not only the physical accessibility of the county service buildings, but the availability of modifications in the provision of services, such as the availability of TTY, a type of text telephone device, which is used for communication with county residents with hearing impairments.
After we gather the information, we classify each county as high, medium or low priority, with the counties with the greatest accessibility problems designated as the highest priority
We provide our findings, information about the standards, and ways to address inaccessible features to the officials of each county surveyed. DRM continues to follow up with the counties and survey those that have major accessibility problems or failed to communicate their efforts with our office.
Greatest access concerns
The focus of this project during 2011 was to update our county accessibility survey database and survey those counties that were identified as having the greatest access concerns. Our staff has finished the surveying phase of the project for the year with a total of 113 site survey locations completed.
This new accessibility survey data represents a complete understanding of the level of accessibility for county service buildings in 21 of the 56 rural counties of Montana. Although the final report is not complete, our preliminary findings show that nearly 25 percent of the surveyed counties fall into the high priority tier.
With winter upon us, we are now consolidating the accessibility data for a comprehensive report of our findings.
Check the website www. disabilityrightsmt.org/ this spring for the full CPS report.
Beth Brenneman is a staff attorney and Lucas Grossi is an advocacy specialist at Disability Rights Montana.