PLATTSBURGH — Advocates for people with disabilities are concerned about changes Champlain Centre has made to some entrances.
But mall officials say the alterations were necessary to comply with handicapped-accessibility laws.
The North Country Center for Independence, which provides advocacy and support for people with disabilities across the region, received a call in early December from a consumer who uses a wheelchair.
“She was going shopping and was going to enter (the mall) through the disabled-access entrance at JCPenney when she found that the curb cut (from the parking lot to the store) had been cemented over,” said John Farley, accessibility consultant for the Center for Independence.
“When we received the call, we went ahead and took a look at what was going on. All but two of the west-side cuts were cemented over.”
TROUBLED BY CHANGE
Curb cuts are portions of curbing that are removed so the sidewalk and roadway are at even levels, allowing for easy access to the sidewalk or nearby business.
Another cut at the entrance near Wendell’s Furniture was filled in, and while a new curb cut was added several yards toward JCPenney, the change is troubling for the Center for Independence because it is directly adjacent to a loading zone.
Greg Lyman said he used to park near the JCPenney entrance to access the curb cut there with his wheelchair, but he now has to park near the Wendell’s entrance and use the access point next to the loading dock.
Advocates believe that is not a safe option for people with disabilities.
“If they’re saying the original curb cuts weren’t built to (required) standards, I’d have to believe the Town of Plattsburgh must have approved those standards at one time,” Lyman said.
“What happens if there’s an emergency, a fire in the mall, and people have to get out,” he added. “People in wheelchairs can’t get out without those curb cuts.”
The filled-in cuts also create some difficulty for parents with young children in baby carriages, Lyman noted.
Target, which is at the north end of the west side of the mall, does have handicapped access at its main entrance, which is consistent with its corporate policy.
A few new access areas have also been created on the mall’s east side, but advocates are concerned that those sites are located near more-obscure entrances.
Champlain Centre contends that the changes were made to create better access for customers with disabilities.
“Champlain Centre takes ADA requirements and handicap accessibility seriously and has been working with Dominic Marinelli from the United Spinal Association, a nationally recognized leader in ADA requirements and handicapped accessibility,” mall officials said in a statement.
“At the request of Champlain Centre, the United Spinal Association has developed a compliance plan for the mall that resulted in the relocation of non-compliant locations, the result of which will not only exceed state and federal accessibility requirements but provide better access for Champlain Centre’s customers with disabilities.”
The previous location for curb cuts did not comply with ADA regulations, Marinelli stated in the release.
“Champlain Centre is considered a Title III entity under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we are obligated to remove barriers,” he said.
“We have to better communicate our compliance plan with North Country Center for Independence and all people with disabilities who visit Champlain Centre.”
United Spinal Association representatives will meet with the Center for Independence later this month to discuss the changes at the mall.
The U.S. Department of Justice will also have a representative at the meeting, and Town of Plattsburgh Codes Enforcement Officer Steve Imhoff will be on hand, as well.
“If they (the mall) are in compliance, then everything could be perfectly fine,” Imhoff said. “They will need to show that they are in compliance with what today’s standards are.”
‘PURELY LEGAL CLAIM’
But advocates believe all main entrances should allow equal access for all consumers.
“We’ve tried to reach out to understand their position,” said Robert Poulin, Center for Independence executive director.
“They’re making a purely legal claim; we’re concerned about people. The mall had a policy that any entrance was accessible. What they have done is taken away access and placed barriers, which is at least contrary to the spirit of the (Disabilities Act).
“If they felt the curb cuts were not up to specs or were unsafe and suspect to liability, then they should have brought them up to specs.
“It’s not up to the mall to decide where people should enter.”
Email Jeff Meyers: firstname.lastname@example.org