TMCNet:  Sacramento airport's new terminal design biased against disabled, suit claims

[December 21, 2012]

Sacramento airport's new terminal design biased against disabled, suit claims

Dec 21, 2012 (The Sacramento Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A Bay Area disabled rights advocacy group has filed a federal lawsuit against Sacramento County, saying the design of Sacramento International Airport's new $1 billion terminal discriminates against people in wheelchairs.


The group contends ticket counters are too high, restroom doors too heavy, passenger drop-off curbs don't align with wheelchair ramps, the automated people mover is unsafe, and that people in wheelchairs lack direct access to the electrical plugs at boarding gates for their laptops and smartphones.

Airport officials immediately disputed those assertions in a brief email to The Bee.

"The design of new Terminal B complies with all applicable State Building Codes and (federal) Americans with Disabilities Act provisions," spokeswoman Linda Cutler wrote.

Cutler declined further comment. County attorneys could not be reached Thursday.

Prior to opening the terminal last year, airport officials said they were making a point of designing the building with the disabled in mind. That included inviting a group of disabled people and advocates to make a test-run through the facility a few weeks before opening and to offer recommendations on changes for easier use.

Thursday's lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Sacramento by Disability Rights Advocates of Berkeley, a law firm noted for suing local governments on disabled-access issues.

Representatives of Disability Rights Advocates said Sacramento airport is just one of numerous airports across the country they contend are violating federal and state disabled-access standards at ticket counters.

They said they chose Sacramento's facility for their lawsuit because it recently opened and should have adhered better to disabled-access needs.

"There is really no excuse," said Stuart Seaborn of Disability Rights Advocates. "This is supposed to be a state-of-the art terminal. If they get away with it here, airports that renovate across the country are going to leave out these critical access standards." The suit seeking class-action status was filed on behalf of people in wheelchairs and scooters, he said.

The listed plaintiffs are Ruthee Goldkorn, a disabled rights consultant and advocate in Southern California who uses a wheelchair and has traveled several times through Sacramento airport, and the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, a nonprofit organization composed of independent living centers.

Goldkorn said that on her first visit to the terminal she got stuck in a restroom, unable to open the door, and had to wait for another flier to let her out.

When she asked about phoning airport officials to report her experience, Goldkorn said she was told the airport courtesy phone was too high for her to reach.

Goldkorn said she is disappointed the airport doesn't have lower ticket counters for people in wheelchairs. Her practice at airports is to wheel herself around to the employee side of the counter, and announce herself: "I say, 'Hi, here I am.' I have the nerve to do that." Disability Rights Advocates officials also say the airport failed to align its sidewalk curb ramps with the designated disabled drop-off areas, forcing people in wheelchairs to roll through vehicles to get to sidewalk access points.

The lawsuit also contends that the gap between the people-mover cars and the platform area is too wide, and constitutes a potential hazard.

Airport officials already have made one small change at the terminal to better accommodate the disabled.

They now keep two sets of security doors in the concourse building permanently open after passengers complained the doors were difficult for people in wheelchairs to open.

Call The Bee's Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

___ (c)2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Visit The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) at www.sacbee.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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