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Gary man wants county government buildings to be more accommodating to sight-impared

| Carrie Napoleon~for Sun-Times Media

| Carrie Napoleon~for Sun-Times Media

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March is Disability Awareness Month, and at least one local resident would like to use the opportunity to encourage officials to make the region’s public buildings more accessible to the sight-impaired.

Rufus Purnell, of Gary, said many of the local government buildings in Lake County — including the Lake County Government Center and Gary City Hall and public safety buildings — are lacking in their accommodations for the visually impaired.

Purnell, who can see, said he became concerned about the situation when he was in the Gary City Hall building and saw a blind person attempt to find his way to the building department.

“He wound up in the women’s bathroom. I felt bad for him,” Purnell said, adding the bathroom and building department were just a couple of doors apart. “I had to help him out.”

He said he has found signage lacking in other government buildings as well.

Purnell met with a Post-Tribune reporter recently at the Lake County Government Center to highlight his concerns. While the majority of the main entrances to the various county offices — including the auditor, treasurer and assessor offices — have Braille signage, some, such as the office of the Board of Elections, have the sign on the exit door and not the entrance.

Stairwells on the north and south sides of Building A are not labeled in Braille at all. Other doors, such as those to closets and fire hoses, likewise are unlabeled.

The building’s elevators are signed in Braille. The bathrooms also have Braille signage, though in at least one instance the Braille lettering has been broken off and all that remains is the picture indicating it is a men’s rest room.

Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act requires signage for the sight-impaired to be between 48 and 60 inches from the floor and 2 inches from the door jamb. All doorways in a building, as well as elevators, should be signed, though changes are not required on existing buildings until a renovation takes place.

Commission President Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said Purnell raised an issue about a specific need that has a specific standard and the county needs to attempt to meet that standard.

“We have in the past and continue to update and upgrade our accessibility,” Repay said.

Recent work includes changes to the ramp at the county’s courthouse in Hammond to adjust the pitch and make it easier to use. The elevator project in the government center is also a project that improved accessibility for those with mobility issues.

He said the county has an ADA compliance report which shows where improvements are needed and is working to implement those projects as money is available. One of those projects is reworking the doors on the A building to make them more accessible, energy-efficient and secure. That work should begin later this year.

Repay agreed addressing the signage issue is important and would not be cost-prohibitive.

“I think that’s something we can, should and will address. I don’t think it’s a very large investment but it is a valuable one,” he said.

Lake County Council President Ted Bilski said he was not aware of the concerns about the Braille signage but the issue was raised in the right venue, before the board of commissioners. He said commissioners will have the full cooperation of the county council to implement any plan they come up with to address the concerns.

“Specials needs is a priority. Our goal is to continue that,” Bilski said.

He said officials are looking at a number of different issues and are working to accomplish as much as possible with the limited resources available to make things more accessible.

“If commissioners are moving forward with a plan, they will have the full cooperation of the council,” Bilski said.



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