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Disability Commission Gets Recommendation, Again

By Teresa Rochester

April 3 -- The City Council's previous opinions to the contrary, creating an on-going disability commission is essential to tackling a myriad of issues that affect a significant number of Santa Monicans, according to a report issued this week by a council-appointed accessibility committee.

The Santa Monica Disability Community Accessibility Committee was created by the council last June after council members shot down recommendations by an earlier disabilities task force for a full-fledged commission because the majority believed it was unnecessary.

According to the report "it would benefit the City Council and City Staff to have an advisory and educational year-round disability advisory board to ensure the participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of civic life."

"It is essential to have citizen involvement in prioritizing disability issues and providing input to improve City programs and services," the report said. "The advisory body must be year-round because issues about people with disabilities are too complex and time consuming to be addressed in a time-limited fashion each year."

The creation of a disability commission has received the endorsements of a veritable who's who of area politics, as well as the support of other commissions and community groups. Other cities such as Berkeley, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Burbank and Long Beach, have such commissions.

City staff also recommended a year-round commission instead of re-convening the committee each year, according to a staff report. The council once again will vote on the issue, along with the committee's other recommendations, at its meeting next Tuesday.

Other recommendations made by the six-month old committee include improving:

· The physical accessibility of City facilities
· The City's interaction and communication with people with disabilities.
· The City's outreach to and education of businesses and landlords.

The 10-member committee wants the City to create a database tracking ADA compliance in all City-owned and leased buildings, as well as a database that tracks all required equipment and features on City property, such as wheelchair accessible front entrances and restrooms.

The report also recommends that as much City funding as possible be used to upgrade access features on all City property. Some proposed priorities include restrooms and the elevator in City Hall, parking structures, senior centers, libraries and parks.

Hoping to break down the "second class" citizen barrier disabled people face, the committee wants City staff to go through annual training to improve relationships and customer service.

Another goal outlined in the report is to improve outreach and communication with people with disabilities. There are suggestions for a disability Web page and information in publications about accessibility.

One key recommendation calls for a procedure to address grievances associated with ADA matters. Although a procedure is currently in place, the committee found that City staff and the community are not well informed about it.

Proposed changes to the procedure would include a statement that people have the right to advocacy assistance, and services and that assistance can be provided so a person can better understand the process.

The committee also calls on the City to reach out to landlords and businesses.

"The City should undertake a campaign to educate private businesses and landlords of the rights of people with disabilities and the availability of grants to improve accessibility, so as to further improve equality of opportunity and, therefore the quality of life for people with disabilities in Santa Monica," the report states.

The report calls for increased grants to businesses and landlords to make their properties more accessible and increased code enforcement.

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