Faces of the ADA
Wally Itrich -- "Because of the ADA, I feel like a real part of my community."
For citizens with disabilities living in this city of 17,000 in the southwest corner of North Dakota, participating in their community just got a lot easier. For years, people with disabilities couldnt get into the Dickinson City Hall - to vote, attend City meetings, or conduct any business with the City. Although people using wheelchairs could get into the City Hall foyer, there was no access to the upper or lower floors which house the city offices, the municipal court, commission meeting rooms, and a polling place.
Since 1992, Wally Itrich, a wheelchair user and Dickinson resident, worked with the local Independent Living (IL) Committee and the city commissioners ADA Advisory Board to craft solutions to the access problems at city hall. Although the construction of a new city hall had been proposed by the city commission, nothing happened and people with disabilities still were kept out of the mainstream at the Dickinson City Hall. In 1997, Wally filed a complaint with the Department of Justice.
Following an investigation, the City made a proposal to construct a new, accessible city hall. The Department of Justice agreed to review all plans and provide ongoing technical assistance to the City throughout the course of construction. Pending completion of the new city hall, Dickinson took a series of steps to provide access to its services, including the relocation of municipal court proceedings to the Stark County Courthouse and city commission and other public meetings to the National Armory Building in Dickinson, which is fully accessible. The city reassigned voters with disabilities to alternate, accessible polling places for any elections taking place prior to completion of the new building. The city also provided the services of its administrative offices in the foyer of the existing city hall and installed an accessible counter there to enable people with mobility disabilities to conduct business with the city.
According to Wally "the new city commission and mayor were amiable and cooperative. In 1998, construction began on the new showcase city hall. When it was completed, the mayor and city commission suggested celebrating the grand opening of the new city hall in conjunction with our ADA Festival and Street Fair. Our IL Committee, which planned the yearly festival, agreed and the new, accessible Dickinson City Hall was dedicated on July 2, 1999. We had speakers at the festival who gave testimony about how the ADA benefitted them. A fine time was had by all. Even people who initially didnt agree with the plan to build a new building!"
"Because of the ADA, I feel like a real part of my community. So do others. Martin can drive his electric scooter around town because of curb cuts. Cassandra can continue to attend junior high due to widened doors and elevators. And no one complains about universal access - its the most used entrance for all, be they disabled, elderly, parents with babies in strollers, or John or Jane Q. Public."
People in Dickinson have come together to make all their citizens a part of the community.
July 25, 2000