Testing handicapped access at new courthouse

Channel 4 investigation looks at wheelchair access to Duval County Courthouse

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Sharon Hoffmeyer has Muscular Dystrophy and has been in a wheelchair for about four years. She agreed to visit the new Duval County Courthouse to see just how accessible it is by wheelchair.

Right off the bat she noticed a problems there are no signs saying where ramps are located. When we did find them at the top of the ramp, Sharon still has to wait. Hoffmyer says she can't even push a button to open the door.

"Just with opening doors, I can't get though," she says. "It's about program access. Everyone should be able to access the courthouse."

In the restroom it was a very tight squeeze. She says it was hard for her to maneuver in the stall.

"I could get in but inside the stall was tight for my chair," says Hoffmeyer.

We asked the city head of Disabled Services Beth Meyer about that.

"We have gone through the restrooms and the restrooms are to code," says Meyer.

That is something the judges say has to change. Judge Lance Day says the fact that something is code is not enough.

"We got to get past this meeting a minimum standard. This is a building that is supposed to be designed for another 50 or 60 years," says Day. "If you are in a wheelchair you should be able to come into a building and not just met a minimum standard. You should be able to get though the building without having to go through all these hoops and hurdles."

IMAGES:  Testing wheelchair access at new courthouse

Hoffmeyer is far from alone. We also met Robert Davis -- an attorney who uses the courthouse daily. He showed us how hard it is for him just to get to work.

The sidewalks leading to the courthouse have little or no access. He can't get his chair up or down to cross the street and is forced to wheel out in the middle of traffic.

"I have to push down the street over there to the other side where there is an access way," Davis says. "I have already been run over once in traffic just crossing the street."

These are issues Meyer of Disabled Services says the city is now dealing with. But we asked if it's going to add to the overall cost of the courthouse.

"I am not exactly sure where the funding is but this is something the city is working with Turner [construction company] and the architects" Meyer said.

Right before this new courthouse opened, the city was told to make certain changes to be more handicapped accessible. But now some of those so-called fixes need to be fixed.

For example, ramps were installed at the last minute to make witnesses boxes accessible. Some judges now but now they've become a tripping hazard for everyone and have to use chairs to block them.

The city, Chief Judge Donald Moran and Turner Construction have been meeting to try to find answers. More than likely this could end up in court, something Moran wants to avoid.

"If any building should be compliant with the law it ought to be the courthouse." Moran said.

The city tells us the reason the plans for the courthouse were approved the way they were -- is because the old administration ADA representative signed off on items, that we're told should not have been signed off on. That person left the position when Mayor Alvin Brown's new administration came in.

All sides will continue to meet on the issue this month and try to come with solutions soon. We're told they have already ordered some automatic doors for the lobby area and will add signs including a braille map in the near future.

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