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SPECIAL REPORT: Creating Corridor Accessibility

TIPTON, IA (CBS2/FOX28) -- The Americans with Disabilities Act requires accommodations be made at public buildings with people who are disabled, but even 23 years after the law was passed, it still proves to be a hurdle for many Iowa towns.

Those towns and cities aren't breaking the law -- they work around the physical limitations of a building if one is inaccessible -- but the questions becomes: are there resources to retrofit an old building to give everyone the equal access they deserve?

Two flights of stairs separate the city of Tipton from having a fully accessible City Hall. Right now, city council meeting are held on the second floor, and there is no elevator in the building.

"It's cumbersome, and our issue isn't necessarily people getting into the building as much as it's people of varying ages wanting to walk up two flights of stairs. They just choose not to come at this point," said city administrator Chris Nosbisch.

Active city council attendee and Tipton resident Charline Thumm knows that first-hand. She has about five friends who would like to attend council meetings, but can't make the climb.

"If I know that many people that don't go, there's probably a whole lot more that don't go for the same reason, too," Thumm said.

The city does offer accommodations -- they'll bring the meeting downstairs if people can't make it up -- but the downstairs space is small, with just enough room for a printer and some storage, and Thumm said, people don't feel comfortable with the idea.

"You also don't want to be the one that they're moving the meeting for, that one person," Thumm said.

Without the ability to put an elevator into the building, Nosbisch said, the council is scouting for a new spot. The council is currently considering five different buildings. They'll hold a meeting at each location until they find the best fit.

"Finding a space that's more accessible is one of our top priorities," he said.

But Tipton just built a new fire department, so the city doesn't have the cash for another new building. The council is looking at space available in other current buildings to find something that works for everyone.

"Cost is always a factor," Nosbisch said.

"It is very expensive when you put elevators in, when you put ramps in," said Steve Goodall, principal at McKinley Middle School in Cedar Rapids.

Cost is why his three-story school, built in 1922, didn't get ramps and an elevator until 2011. It's the age of a building like McKinley that makes it so difficult to retrofit -- and it took $700,000 of district-directed money to update the historical building.

"Being able to make all of that accessible is a challenge -- it wasn't designed for that. So architects and engineers have to come up with creative ways to become compliant," Goodall said.

But it pays off, especially for students like eighth grader JoJo Braggs. He broke two bones in his foot playing football, and he's happy about the elevator. He said it helps him a lot when he first got back to school.

"I felt hot and I felt weak and I was just happy that it was there for me and I didn't have to go up the stairs," Braggs said.

Braggs is just one of several kids on crutches at McKinley making use of the elevator right now, not to mention his disabled classmates who use it all the time.

So these facilities are either paid for when a town re-prioritizes money -- or, when its residents demand a solution.

"I know doesn't want to go to every meeting every time, but they should have the ability to go when they want to," Thumm said.

And it doesn't matter if it's going to class in Cedar Rapids or catching the council in Tipton, the idea is, making public spaces a little more accessible makes democracy a lot more functional.

"The more educated those individuals become, it starts to spread. And spread the right information as opposed to the wrong information," Nosbisch said.
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