May 18, 2004

Contact: Roger Martin, KU Center for Research, (785) 864-7239.

KU researcher disappointed by scope of Supreme Court ruling on accessibility

LAWRENCE -- A University of Kansas research assistant says a Supreme Court ruling on Monday requiring states to make courthouses accessible to people in wheelchairs would have been better news had it been more encompassing.

Dot Nary, training director at the KU Research and Training Center on Independent Living, who spends her day in a wheelchair, says, "The ruling is a big win for us, but I had hoped that it would apply more generally to state governments."

If it had, she said, more services, including access to an annual Kansas health screening program, might be available to people in wheelchairs.

By a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled that states can be sued for damages under federal disability law if their courthouses aren't accessible.

The case was brought by six Tennessee residents with disabilities. One was a man who crawled up to a second-floor courtroom to answer a criminal traffic complaint.

Nary said, "This decision should favorably affect the chance for success of anyone wanting to press the issue of courthouse accessibility in Kansas, but it's limited to access to the justice system, not other types of state institutions."

For example, Nary said, for the past two years Kansas has had a health-screening program for state employees. Unfortunately, though, the mobile vehicles used by the program don't have wheelchair lifts.

The state hasn't remedied the problem "despite my providing detailed information about making the program accessible and filing complaints with several agencies," Nary said.

Glen White, KU associate professor of human development and family life, points to an irony in yesterday's ruling: "A person with a disability had to crawl up the steps of a courthouse to get to a judge and yet in many states there is no law mandating that voting poll sites have to be accessible. So the person with a disability may not even be able to vote for the judge."

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