What’s wrong with this picture? The access paddle is blocked by the trash can.
The Metropolitan Council is taking initial steps in a far-reaching plan to make its offices, treatment plants, transit facilities, garages, websites, and other digital media more accessible to people with disabilities. The council is the regional unit of government for the Twin Cities area.
The actions grow out of a comprehensive evaluation conducted last year, as well as a follow-up plan developed in early 2020. “It provides a clear picture of our situation … and where we need to go,” said Guthrie Byard, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VI Administrator.
“This is important work, and for many reasons,” Byard said. “An important one is that we need to fully comply with the federal ADA and other important standards. But beyond that requirement, we want to make our resources fully available, usable, and welcoming to everyone.”
One major goal is physical accessibility of Met Council facilities based on ADA requirements. The evaluation identified almost 3,000 barriers that need to be moved, modified or eliminated, based on criteria from the U.S. Access Board and Minnesota Accessibility Code. It was also found that only 2 percent of barriers found are the considered most serious.
“The remaining barriers can hamper access to programs or services,” Byard said, “but they affect fewer customers and to a more limited extent.”
“We have made significant progress in making sure our facilities are accessible under the ADA and the Minnesota Building Code,” he said, “but there’s still work to be done.”
Examples include wastewater treatment plant tour routes, placement of automatic door buttons, accessible parking spots, and location of accessible parking signs, as well as movable objects in buildings, such as waste bins in entries and hallways.
Metro Transit operates and maintains a broad range of facilities that can pose accessibility issues for customers. Bus stops are critical access points for transit riders. Evaluation of all of those, including bus stops, is underway.
Several transit facilities will undergo continuing review for possible improvements, including the Heywood Garage, Transit Centers, park-and-ride lots, pedestrian ramps and signs. A digital database of assets was prepared.
At wastewater treatment facilities, most accessibility issues involve building entrances. Some underground corridors have low head clearance, narrow walkways, and tripping hazards underfoot. Public tours are not being conducted at this time. That provides an opportunity to fully review how to improve accessibility, possibly including virtual tours and accessible maps.
Another area eyed for accessibility improvements is Metropolitan Council digital communications.
“We brought two companies on board that specialize in digital accessibility,” Byard said. “One assesses how well our websites work for people of all abilities. The other created a plan to enable employees, regardless of ability, to access and master our internal accessibility practices for digital media.”
Byard said council staff may explore further action beyond compliance with existing requirements, at least in the future, with the possibility of implementing Universal Design principles.
“The principles are, in essence, accessibility for all, regardless of ability, age, size, or other factors,” he said.
“They would be a major action, one that would need extensive thought and careful consideration.”