ADA violations to cost city millions

Jacksonville agrees to make repairs to avoid federal lawsuit

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Duval County taxpayers must pay $37 million to fix buildings, parks and other city property that the federal government found were not accessible to people with disabilities.

Last November, the Department of Justice and the city of Jacksonville agreed to a settlement agreement that detailed more than 2,000 items not in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.

"It's very frustrating," said Sharon Hoffmeyer, who has Muscular Dystrophy. "I've lost jobs because of non-compliant buildings in Riverside."

Jacksonville has agreed to make hundreds of changes in dozens of places, including City, Hall, the Downtown Library, the Baseball Grounds and Metropolitan Park.

While the city says most of the violations were just oversights.

"Everything originally starts (ADA compliant), and then through changes and specs and plans or construction issues come up," said Beth Meyer, the city's ADA coordinator.

An example of an ADA violation is a elevator that begins to close 5 seconds after they open -- not long enough for someone in a wheelchair to effectively use.

The violations surfaced as a result of a May 2011 investigation by the DOJ -- part of a routine check that the government does on cities across the country. While the changes will be made over the next five years to avoid a lawsuit, Meyer says they are needed because one in seven people in Jacksonville are disabled.

"Project Civic Access is specifically about removing physical barriers and removing communication barriers," Meyer said.

Hoffmeyer says the changes are a step in the right direction because while inches may not mean much to the general public, they can make a huge difference to her.

"For me being able to access a building or just go about my everyday life without having to worry whether a wheelchair is going to fit through the door or whether there's a curb I'll be able to get off of," Hoffmeyer said.

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