Courthouse doors challenging for disabled

By Caren Burmeister
Resident Community News

The Duval County Courthouse’s tall, heavy doors can be challenging to open, even for an abled-bodied person. But for someone who uses a wheelchair or walker, it can seem insurmountable.

“Due to their [the doors] size and weight, they’re very difficult to open,” said Sharon Hoffmeyer, a member of the Mayor’s Disability Council. An elderly person or someone who uses a wheelchair would probably have to wait for a kind person to come by and open it for you, she said.

The doors appear to meet the American with Disabilities Act building codes in that exterior doors don’t exceed more than 8.5 pounds of force to open and interior doors don’t exceed more than 5 pounds of force. But they still leave a lot of room for improvement, Hoffmeyer said.

That’s why she and other people with disabilities applaud a recent decision by Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown to install automatic or power-assisted doors to improve courthouse access.
“As members of the Mayor’s Disability Council we commend your unwavering commitment to the disability community,” the council said in a recent letter to the mayor. “It is with sincere gratitude and appreciation that we are able to work alongside your administration on a common vision to make Jacksonville a great place to live.”
Brown has authorized the city to pay to improve access to 112 courthouse doors and seek any repayment that could be due from the courthouse contractor.
The $350 million courthouse opened in June 2012.

“Public buildings must be accessible to all people who need them,” Brown said. “The public expects its elected leaders to step forward, solve problems and do what’s right for all people.”
Hoffmeyer, a Westside resident who recently evaluated the new courthouse and made recommendations to the mayor, said, “It’s a great step forward for anyone with a disability. For us, it makes sure that every resident in Duval County has access to the courthouse.”

There are roughly 92,000 people in Duval County who have physical or mental disabilities that make it difficult to live independently, according to data from the 2008-2010 American Community Survey.

They are represented by Mayor’s Disability Council, which has 13 members appointed to help improve the quality of life for the full spectrum of individuals with disabilities. The council met in early February and unanimously voted to endorse the courthouse door solution.

Presently, the courthouse’s only automatic doors are the two sets at either side of the front entrance. Making all the courthouse doors automatic or power-assisted goes above and beyond meeting the code, said Beth Meyer, Jacksonville’s coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It costs roughly $3,000 to install a complete automatic door. So, if every door in the building were to be automated the bill could come to $366,000. But the city doesn’t expect it to cost that much because some of the doors have been wired for automation, Meyer said. In addition, some of the doors entering bathrooms and judges’ chambers won’t become automated.
The Mayor’s Disability Council observed the courthouse over a two-week period and came up with a game plan, Meyer said. The process was more hands-on than is typical for the council, but she has always wanted the group to be more engaged in the process.
“Our council was used the way they were supposed to be used,” Meyer said. “It was a great opportunity for everybody.”

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