A survey by the Oregon Department of Transportation shows that 97 percent of the wheelchair curb ramps the department is responsible for don’t fully meet design standards.
Advocates say ODOT is hampering people with disabilities. But the department says the rating sounds worse than it really is.
According to the ODOT inventory, rural counties have some of the lowest rates of compliance with the curb ramp standards in the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA. State roads in Josephine County have only three ramps that meet ADA standards. Coos and Curry Counties have none.
Tom Stenson is an attorney with the Portland-based Disability Rights Oregon. He says the standards may seem nit-picky, but failing to meet them means disabled people are denied access to their communities.
"We’ve erected barriers that keep them from going to the stores, that keep them from meeting up with their friends, that keep them from going to the hospital or going to the post office,” he says.
But Lisa Strader -- who heads ODOT’s Americans With Disabilities Act program – says a failing grade doesn’t mean those ramps necessarily present barriers to people in wheelchairs. She point out there are 11 different measurements that define a compliant ramp and falling short on any of them results in a failing grade.
“There are a lot of curb ramps that function just as they were intended to, but, because one or more elements being out of compliance just a little bit, they’re characterized as ‘poor’," she says.
Strader says the law’s very explicit standards – plus a strict grading system – gives an undeservedly grim picture of Oregon’s accessibility.
The curb ramp inventory is part of a settlement agreement in a 20-17 lawsuit filed by disability advocates in which O-DOT agreed to bring ramps up to standards within 15 years.