Local man asks city to improve ADA access

Local man asks city to improve ADA access

Rodney Dencklau is a Beaumont citizen and, “just like everybody else” who calls the city “home,” he feels he should be able to get from one part of town to the other with relative ease and be afforded the same rights and privileges that all Americans enjoy – privileges like going to the bathroom at a restaurant or watching a live event from an unobstructed view.

But from his experience, he isn’t. In spite of tremendous progress since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Dencklau, who utilizes a power chair for mobility, often struggles with public transportation and then, once he gets where he’s going, struggles agains with discourteous practices still allowed through “grandfather” clauses.

“They still haven’t put in ADA-accessible bus stops at Parkdale Mall,” Dencklau pointed out, referring back to discussions a few years ago when the city started an endeavor to improve Beaumont Municipal Transit (BMT) bus stops. At the time, the city indicated it would try to work with mall management to put in ramps at the bus stops in question that are located on the privately owned mall grounds.

“Parkdale Mall has to go through its parent company, so (initially) there was a delay with those locations,” said Beaumont Planning and Community Development Director Chris Boone.

Boone explained the city is still making improvements to accessibility in Beaumont. He pointed to nine newly constructed, covered, ADA-compliant bus stops modeled after bus stops in Austin and to plans to build nine more of the structures. He also indicated that roadway designers currently have plans to reach out to Parkdale Mall management again in the near future to work out a potential plan to build accessible ramps at stops there.

Dencklau approached the Beaumont City Council on Aug. 7 and Aug. 14 to express his concern about what he sees as a “lack of courtesy” by some and about the restrictive access he and his wife Anniessia, who also uses a power chair, have experienced at recreational venues, local restaurants and other public places.

“I know that new companies you bring to the city have to be wheelchair accessible,” Dencklau told council Aug. 14. “My complaint is, there is a restaurant on Lucas, it has a ramp going into it, but if I’m there eating, I can’t go to the bathroom because the door is little-bitty.”

Dencklau asserts that the restaurant provides only a single example of an issue he deals with almost daily.

“I went to a wrestling event,” Dencklau shared, “and I was sitting 10 to 12 rows back. I can’t see when everybody stands up.”

The seating arrangement at the event he attended is one commonly utilized at a number of venues. The venues provide ramps, and many also have accessible bathrooms, but when it comes to seating, people in wheelchairs may be relegated to the back rows of sections, because that is where the businesses have built accessible seating.

“When Anniessia and her mom went to SeaWorld in San Antonio, it was the same thing,” he explained.

Beaumont Planning Director Boone said that, while the city itself is working to provide accessibility to everyone in the community, Dencklau is right about some businesses being excepted from ADA because they are “grandfathered in.”

Merriam-Webster defines a grandfather clause as, “A clause creating an exemption based on circumstances previously existing.”

Therefore, if a business was built prior to the passage of the ADA, they do not have to abide by the ADA standards for accessibility. However, said Boone, if a new business comes to Beaumont and builds from the ground up, they must comply with the ADA; and if an existing business spends more than $50,000 to remodel, it must also abide by ADA regulations.

Dencklau feels grandfather clauses are stifling progress. He is not alone. Historically, according to Merriam-Webster and multiple other sources, grandfather clauses were used to disenfranchise black voters in the wake of Reconstruction. Dencklau said, if possible, businesses should go ahead and get into compliance with the ADA whether they are required to or even if they are one of many that are excepted from the rule.

“Grandfathered in or not, I think they should have wheelchair accessibility (at) every business, and if they have a public restroom, they should also have wheelchair accessibility,” said Dencklau. “I’m not asking much. Just have consideration… We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re just like everybody else.”