Parking lots, sidewalks, public buildings and websites are just a few examples of public resources people use every day. These are meant for everyone to use. However, when a person has a disability, using these resources can be challenging to use.
That is where the City of Colorado Springs’ Office of Accessibility comes in.
The Office of Accessibility works under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to include people with disabilities by removing barriers so everyone can access public resources.
“Our main job is to self-evaluate, to see what those barriers are and to put a transition plan into place,” said Robert Hernandez, the City’s ADA manager. “I’m pleased to say that this plan is now complete, and work is taking place across the City to improve access based on the plan. It took us over two and a half years to complete this self-evaluation.”
The Department of Justice requires all local and state governments to complete a self-evaluation. This process identifies what barriers are the most prominent.
Removing these barriers is important in creating a City where all voices are heard and everyone has a seat at the table. Without accessible features, residents would not be able to come into public spaces, attend meetings, access public transportation or even get important information from websites.
In 2021, the City of Colorado Springs won the Kathy Vincent Award for Effective Communication from the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. The award celebrated the City’s efforts in creating website accommodations such as screen readers and dictated input.
The Office of Accessibility continues to provide equal service to Colorado Springs residents by constantly creating and updating to a more accessible and available website.
“If we keep the word inclusion in everything we do and make that a culture, then that in itself will remove barriers from the beginning,” said Hernandez.
In just one month, around 15 to 20 cases can be completed. These cases come from the City’s self-evaluation and from citizen reports through GoCOS! – the City’s digital engagement tool for residents. Each case receives a priority ranking based on how much the issue affects a person’s life. Prioritization helps the Office of Accessibility determine which projects are completed first.
Although the Office of Accessibility works hard to provide equal opportunities to all residents, some cases are unable to be completed due to time and money restraints.
“It's a juggling act,” said Hernandez. “We try to do our best to save that dollar at the same time. Because if we do that, then those dollars go further. We're going to be able to remove more barriers.”
Sometimes it’s a matter of law versus guidance. Many rules that are followed to ensure there’s no discrimination in the City are not written laws. They are recommendations.
“The Department of Justice expects us to do the right thing,” said Hernandez. “They'll say, ‘common sense, good faith effort.’ We're supposed to make that good faith effort and use common sense. And where it's technically feasible, remove those barriers. Sometimes, it's not technically feasible. So, we have to get creative and figure it out.”
The most important criteria for the Office of Accessibility are not to discriminate and ensuring that its work provides an inclusive experience for all residents.
“If we provide a service to the public but we don't provide it to a person with a disability, essentially, we're discriminating. They're a part of the public too,” Hernandez said.
The Office of Accessibility ensures that plans address problems that residents faced in the past and may face in the future.
When thinking of future projects, Hernandez said “if you think about all the potential issues ahead of time and try and make your honest effort to be inclusive for all, then that’s 99% of the battle.”
Despite the challenges that come with the job, the Office of Accessibility works to provide a safe and equal environment for everyone. Working with the services, programs and activities provided by the City, the Office of Accessibility continues to create inclusive opportunities for all Colorado Springs residents.