Huge Settlement In California Park Accessibility Cases
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 13, 2005
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA--Because of the efforts of two individuals with disabilities and two disability rights organizations, California's 278 State Parks will soon have fewer barriers to accessibility.
The Oakland-based law firm Disability Rights Advocates and the California Department of Parks and Recreation announced Tuesday that they reached an agreement to settle two separate class action lawsuits filed on behalf of Bonnie Tucker, a blind resident from Arizona, and Peter Mendoza, a Californian with cerebral palsy, along with the California Council of the Blind and Californians for Disability Rights.
The suits accused the state of violating the rights of people with disabilities by continuing to allow physical barriers to access, especially a lack of wheelchair ramps and paths, and for not providing important park information in formats for people who are blind or have disabilities that affect their reading.
Under the agreement, the state has agreed to spend around $100 million over the next 11 years to make the park system's beaches, historic monuments, reserves, and recreational areas more accessible. The changes will include such things as renovating restrooms, offering closed-captioning for film exhibits, and providing beaches with wheelchairs that have special balloon tires.
The state has established a list of 37 parks that are the highest priority for changes.
"With this settlement, California is on its way to having the most accessible park system in the country," Laurence Paradis, Executive Director of Disability Rights Advocates, said in a media statement.
Peter Mendoza said: "Although many take 'a walk in the park' for granted, people with disabilities have historically been excluded from inaccessible areas of natural beauty. This settlement will guarantee to people with disabilities the equal opportunity to enjoy the wonderful resources our state parks have to offer."
The plaintiffs did not ask for compensation in the settlement. Disability Rights Advocates has requested nearly $700,000 to cover expenses the firm has incurred since the first suit was filed in 1998.
"The changes were the goal, not the money," attorney Stephen Tollafield told the Union-Tribune.
"State ready to improve park access for disabled" (San Diego Union-Tribune)
"Tucker v. California Department of Parks and Recreation" (Disability Rights Advocates)