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Advocate: Businesses Must Do More To Aid Disabled

Connect Transit bus
Eric Stock
Courtney Hummel of Normal, who has been blind since birth, gets off a Connect Transit bus as she heads to work at Applebee's Restaurant in Bloomington.

A disability rights advocate said he wants to see more downtown Bloomington businesses improve accessibility for the disabled.
Conan Calhoun of Life Center for Independent Living (Life CIL) said those conversations with business owners have at times been challenging.

“You start having that discussion about ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance, you will notice a lot of business owners start to build that wall, per se, and that barriers goes up and that discussion will cease as that point in time,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun asked why would they intentionally turn away customers.

Ramp placed in front of Bloomington business
Credit Life Center for Independent Living
Conan Calhoun of Life Center for Independent Living says this ramp, that a Bloomington business purchased online for $60, is not a good fix but does meet the minimum requirement for enabling a disabled customer to enter the store.

“Any time that your business isn’t doing well in certain areas, people talk, people post, people write things down,” Calhoun said. “(Compliance) is going to attract more individuals into your business.”

Calhoun said many downtown businesses are in older buildings that predate the ADA and in some cases aren't owned by the business, thereby leaving the expense to the landlord.

City business

Calhoun added he’s encouraged to see Bloomington city officials finally willing to address disability shortcomings in many of its businesses.

He added it's taken lots of patience and some ruffling of feathers at city hall just to get to this point.

“Bloomington is on an upswing. I feel great about the people we are working with down there. Our voice is being heard, we have a lot of work to do,” Calhoun said.

“I understand there’s going to be some feelings getting hurt and some individuals are probably going to be upset, but it’s probably going to be better in the long run.”

Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason said in a recent interview the city is willing to help more businesses come into compliance. He suggested the possibility of creating a cost-sharing agreement.

Calhoun said he wants the city to pressure these businesses to come into compliance even if they have a historic designation that relaxes those requirements.

Life CIL Director, Rickielee Benecke, said the organization has focused much of its attention on advocating in Bloomington because Normal has been a model community for providing access for the disabled.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.