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Some say accessibility to Bloomington businesses remains a concern

Overhead view of cars driving through downtown Bloomington
Emily Bollinger
/
WGLT
Bloomington saw a 2.6% increase in population from 2010 to 2020.

A City of Bloomington effort to gather more input from people with disabilities regarding its in-development plan for compliance with the American Disabilities Act continued Thursday at Life Center for Independent Living.

Around a dozen or so attendees gathered both in person and virtually to hear from and offer feedback to Michael Hurt, the city's chief diversity and inclusion officer and ADA coordinator.

Among the concerns mentioned: accessibility to private businesses.

Life CIL disability rights advocate Conan Calhoun said he's repeatedly heard questions regarding "the city's stance and feelings of putting some pressure on these private businesses that remain, and continue to remain, inaccessible."

"A fundamental resound from a lot of businesses that ... I'm talking to have said the same thing: 'We're not doing anything unless the city makes us do it,'" he said. "I don't like looking at it like that because it becomes adversarial immediately."

Come the summer, it's likely that downtown businesses will put out furniture for outdoor dining once again that has previously led to accessibility issues, Calhoun said. Initially, that may have been due to a lack of understanding about how to make such arrangements accessible.

"I don't hesitate to say the training was not there," said Hurt, noting the city did not have anyone in his position at the time. "Someone should have gone out as these restaurants opened up in their facilities and did the assessment right there: Just let them know, 'This is not accessible, this is what you need to change.' But it happened on the back end. This year, we'll be on the front end of it."

Hurt said he saw businesses that "could have made so much more money with a $200 ramp, which was just ridiculous. I get to review these on the front end, now, so it will be a lot better."

Hurt also said efforts to create a website that's fully accessible by ADA standards remains ongoing, with the expectation that it will be finished by the end of the year, and noted a city audit of buildings it owns shows most of them are ADA accessible.

The city is going into year six of a 10-year plan to spend $1 million a year on sidewalk and curb accessibility; there are 423 miles of sidewalk to be addressed. Hurt said there have been "lots of conversations" between Bloomington and Connect Transit regarding accessibility as well.

"I don't know how much consensus there has been; I'm not in those conversations," he said. "What I do know is that one thing that has been happening is once (Connect) Transit decided they wanted to implement a bus stop — and let's say it's just a grassy area — the city has gone out to try to make sure that area is concrete and covered so you're not just in the middle of the street if you're in a wheelchair."

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