Westmoreland to Remove Barriers in Public Buildings to People with Disabilities

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
April 11, 2006 12:00 am

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Response to Letter from ACLU is Swift and Sweeping

WESTMORELAND COUNTY, VA — In response to a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors yesterday adopted a plan to make county buildings fully accessible for people with disabilities.

“Westmoreland should be congratulated for moving to bring county buildings into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act after we threatened to file suit,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “They showed remarkable nimbleness for a governmental entity.”

On March 22, the ACLU sent a letter to Westmoreland officials warning that that the lack of a ramp to the Clerk of the Court’s office, located in the old courthouse, and other barriers to accessibility in the newly constructed courthouse violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Within two days of sending its letter, the ACLU received assurances from Westmoreland’s attorney that the Clerk’s office and the courthouse would be brought into compliance with disability law.

By the end of March the county had hired engineering and architectural consultants to inspect the six main county buildings for compliance with the ADA. The consultants found 323 violations, and yesterday the Board of Supervisors appropriated $89,000 to make all six buildings fully accessible to disabled persons.

The only building escaping inspection was the county’s museum, which is being expanded and will be presumably brought into compliance when the work is completed.

Prior to the ACLU’s letter, disability rights advocates had publicly criticized Westmoreland officials for spending $140,000 for new judge’s chambers, also located in the old courthouse, but not adding ramps to make the building accessible to people with disabilities.

The ACLU also learned that county officials had been aware of the ADA violations for several years and had been communicating with the Virginia Office of Advocacy and Protection, but had still not taken any steps to correct the situation.

“When all is said and done” added Willis, “county officials should be wearing badges of dishonor for having ignored for years the pleas of disabled persons in their community.”

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