How accessible is Lincoln for disabled residents?

By: Carol Percy, Reporter Lincoln News Messenger
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A top-priority question before the city of Lincoln is whether Lincoln is accessible for the disabled.

At the March 26 Lincoln City Council meeting, disabled resident Byron Chapman threatened to sue the city of Lincoln.

During the public-comment portion of the meeting, Chapman, 60 and a 10-month resident of Lincoln, addressed councilmen about disability issues. He has done so at recent council meetings.

This time, Chapman said, he “was going to cut to the chase.”

“This is how the matter of this city not being in full compliance after 23 years and counting is going to be,” he said at the March 26 meeting.

Chapman was referring to the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) act signed into law in 1990 by President George Bush. The law states that “a public entity may not deny the benefits of its programs, activities, and services to individuals with disabilities because its facilities are inaccessible. . . this standard . . . applies to all existing facilities of a public entity.”

Chapman placed papers and photographs on the speaker’s table and indicated that the items described in detail the ADA noncompliance issues at McBean Park Pavilion where City Council meetings and community events are held.

“City of Lincoln — you are toast,” Chapman said. “All I can say is get ready. This is not a Byron Chapman fight against the city of Lincoln; it’s a fight for the disabled community.”

Chapman then recited what he said “would be the predictable nine steps that would happen next.”

The highlights included: he would serve the city with a tort, the city attorney would give city officials “really bad advice,” the city would respond by saying they’d done nothing wrong, documents would be filed for a lawsuit and 18 to 24 months later, his attorney would win.

From there, Chapman warned, the city would have to pay all attorneys’ fees and would still have to make all the ADA repairs within 24 months. In addition, Chapman said, “under the law,” the city would have to pay him damages.

On Monday, Chapman told The News Messenger that he has not yet filed a lawsuit with the city.

The News Messenger asked Lincoln councilmen to comment on Chapman’s accusations.

“I think Mr. Chapman's comments to the council and history of litigation in other cities make his intentions very clear. Given that, I think it best that I refrain from commenting any further,” said Lincoln Councilman Paul Joiner.

To date, Chapman said he has filed on average of one ADA lawsuit per month for the last 13 years, amounting to more than 150 lawsuits.

The Lincoln News Messenger discovered in a Google search about 100 disability lawsuits filed by Chapman, dating from March 22, 2000 to March 20, 2013.

“It is unfortunate for the community that Mr. Chapman's apparent job, based on his public comments, is to sue communities as he has apparently done in Dixon and other places,” Lincoln Councilman Spencer Short said.

Legal counsel advised him not to comment on threatened litigation, according to Short.

Chapman, who calls himself an “ADA activist,” said his serial lawsuits are not about winning awards for himself but rather about “making the world more accessible for disabled people.”


Chapman’s issues with McBean Park Pavilion

Chapman said he began bringing his complaints to Lincoln’s City Council in November 2012, four months after he moved to Lincoln. He told City Council at every meeting, except for one, that the McBean Pavilion parking lot’s disabled spaces were not up to ADA code, that the entry door had access issues and that he couldn’t get his electric wheelchair into the Pavilion toilet stall, according to Chapman.

On the advice of the city attorney, Lincoln Mayor Stan Nader said that he could not comment on Chapman’s assertions.

“In light of the threat of litigation and without seeing the specific allegations of a specific threatened lawsuit, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the substance of this matter at this time,” the mayor said.

Lincoln city staff said the city attorney has also advised them not to comment about Chapman’s comments.

On Monday, The News Messenger met with Chapman at McBean Park Pavilion. Chapman said there were three main non-compliance issues at the Pavilion.

First, the two disabled parking spaces near the Pavilion’s front entry were not laid out in accordance with ADA law, he said. One space had no access aisle on the right side. Vans for the disabled open on the right side, allowing a ramp to slide out, Chapman said. In this case, another car could park in the adjoining space, blocking a van’s right-side door. For the other space, the access aisle had no marked path of travel to the building.

Second, Chapman said he was not able to access the toilet stall in his electric wheelchair. Since the restrooms were locked Monday and no drawings were available for the stall, The News Messenger could not determine whether that was true.

Third, the approach to the Pavilion’s main entry door has a sloped concrete ramp. Chapman said the slope is too steep and should have a flat landing in front of the door. A disabled person in a manual wheelchair could roll backward trying to get the door open, Chapman said.

Last Friday, Dave Lightfoot, also in a wheelchair, told The News Messenger that he has trouble with the Pavilion’s front door because the ramp to the door is sloped.

“But if I'm struggling, I ask for help. Some people don’t feel comfortable doing that,” Lightfoot said.

Chapman moved to Lincoln from Dixon in July 2012. Chapman also challenged the city of Dixon to address ADA issues in its City Council building, which led to a lawsuit and $40,000 worth of ADA changes to Dixon’s City Council facility, Chapman said. The approach to the speaker’s platform was on a steep grade that wasn’t accessible to those in manual wheelchairs, he said.

In addition, Chapman received a $14,000 settlement from the city of Dixon, according to a “General Release” document from the Solano County Superior Court. The document was provided by the city of Dixon and dated April 2011.

Chapman declined to comment on how much money he has made from his numerous settlements.

Chapman said that he sues because “it’s the only way to get people to step up to their responsibilities.”

“The only way I get things done is to be viewed as a hard-nosed, hit-you-in-the-gut, mean, rotten S.O.B.,” Chapman said. “I want them to say, ‘Holy God, that S.O.B. is in town,’ and do what they know needs to be done,” Chapman said.

Lightfoot, on the other hand, said he doesn’t agree with suing to get attention for an issue.

“It makes it bad for other people in wheelchairs,” he said.


Next week, The News Messenger will look at the city of Lincoln’s options.