Ever since George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990, discrimination against people with disabilities has been prohibited; and the legislation is supposed to guarantee that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in everyday, mainstream American life, according to the ADA website.|
However, disabled people find unique challenges in rural areas they would not typically face in more urban settings. Julie Reiskin, executive director of the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition, said the biggest issues people with disabilities face in rural areas is isolation and an overall lack of resources.
Reiskin said there are fewer people in rural communities, which is often one of the reasons why people like living in rural communities. The small-town feel and quiet atmosphere draws people to rural areas, but that comes with a lack of resources, she said.
“The transportation system is usually less robust or non-existent,” Reiskin said. For people who need to travel into urban areas for appointments, that can pose a huge obstacle.
Fran Dorrance, outreach specialist with the Colorado Springs Independence Center, said eastern El Paso County has made steps to overcome the transportation barrier through the envida program, a nonprofit organization in the Springs that provides low cost transportation and home health care.
“The envida bus does not take people to appointments but it does run a route that gets them into town,” she said. “But once they get to Colorado Springs, they have to figure out how to get transportation from point A to point B, and a lot of people will not take the bus because of that barrier.”
Lack of resources
Dorrance and Reiskin agreed that affordable housing is another issue people with disabilities often find in rural areas. Rural low-income housing is mostly located outside a typical bus route, and there is often only one or two places for people to get specialized or low-income housing; homeless services are even less prevalent, Reiskin said.
In Calhan, Dorrance said the available housing fills up very quickly. “For people with disabilities or seniors, there is one place in Calhan that caters specifically to them and it has a two-and-a-half-year waiting list,” she said.
Sometimes, the largest barrier to getting people connected with the resources they need is that they do not know the resources exist or how to find them, Dorrance said.
“My home office is in Calhan,” she said. “I work at the Community Outreach Center on the (El Paso County) fairground.” Various agencies come to Calhan throughout the week to offer resources, she said. “Just getting people that need those resources to realize we are here is hard, though.”
One way to spread the word is through the Community Outreach Center Coalition Health and Education Fair, which takes place annually at the EPC fairgrounds, Dorrance said. This year is the ninth annual Health and Education Fair, which will take place Saturday, Sept. 14, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. More than 50 vendors will be onsite to help people live a healthy life and learn about services available in the community, Dorrance said.
The Independence Center tries to help people stay independent in rural areas by bringing those resources into the community, which requires a lot of research, she said.
“The resources are out there; people just need to look for them,” Dorrance said. “They are here, they are limited, but if somebody comes to me for something and I cannot find it; I will research it and send them to someone I think can help them and guide them in the right direction.”
The COC is open Monday through Friday, with some of the resource organizations present, depending on the day, Dorrance said. For example, the Pikes Peak Work Force and the Colorado Department of Human Services are available on Wednesdays, she said.
Americans with Disabilities Act compliance
Both Dorrance and Reiskin said ADA compliance is another major issue people with disabilities encounter in rural areas.
“More and more businesses are starting to be ADA compliant; but, in rural areas, they are very behind,” Dorrance said. “But to change things, there has to be funding.”
In Calhan, the sidewalks are moving toward having the curb cuts at the corners for wheelchair access points, she said. However, with so many dirt roads, sidewalks are often non-existent; trying to change that will require funding, Dorrance said.
“Maybe as development keeps coming this way it will get better in these smaller towns, but it is not going to change into Colorado Springs overnight,” she said. “You can see little things happening each day, though.”
Reiskin said some changes are more difficult because people need to speak about their needs and experiences. “In a rural community, it can be harder to speak up because they can be labeled as a trouble-maker when they are really just exercising their rights. Often, they just do not say anything.”
Starting a conversation with the business or organization that presents a challenge for disabled people can be the first step in getting things to change, Reiskin said. However, if the business chooses to ignore the problem, the other option is to file a civil complaint through the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Regulatory Agencies, part of the Department of Justice, she said. Filing a lawsuit through a small claims court can only result in monetary compensation; they cannot require someone to fix a problem, Reiskin said.
The Colorado Cross Disability Coalition is a statewide disabilities rights organization that focuses on social justice issues and can help in certain instances of ADA violations, she said. The organization trains people with disabilities to take leadership roles in working to affect change in legislation and advocate for people with disabilities, Reiskin said.
“Through individual advocacy, we help individuals who have a specific problem with a specific service or system,” she said. “We also work on civil rights enforcement and have a probate law program.”
Reiskin said the bottom line when it comes to ADA violations or compliance is this: “All of the disabilities protections apply to everyone, no matter where they live.”
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At the El Paso County Colorado School District 49 Board of Education meeting in July, the board unanimously approved a resolution to pursue the land dedication title transfer for property already dedicated to the district near the Forest Meadows/Woodmen Heights subdivision, owned by Aspen View Homes.|
The site has been designated as a school site on master facilities plans going back to 2003, said the BOE president, Marie LaVere-Wright.
In a letter to the district dated June 19, Kevin Hart, executive vice president of Aspen View Homes, wrote that the district’s request for the title transfer is unclear. Hart asked if the nature of the request was an unsolicited offer to purchase the property or some form of notification of a governmental eminent domain.
“We are following the master plan that had been submitted to the county in 2003,” LaVere-Wright said. “We agreed to have the land in lieu of fees at the time this development was platted. The land stays in the possession of the developer until we are ready to build on it. We do not want to be responsible for the maintenance of a property until we are ready to use it.”
It is up to the district to decide to take land dedicated by a developer or fees in lieu of that land, based on what the district needs, she said. Because the plat clearly shows the 22-acre property was intended for school use, no fees on that property have been collected, LaVere-Wright said.
“Aspen View claims they paid the fees, but they did not because we had already agreed not to collect anything on it since we agreed to take the land instead of the fees back in 2003,” she said.
Another site in the immediate area that had been designated as a school site is owned by Challenger Homes, LaVere-Wright said. That title was transferred to the district with no difficulty, and the Grand Peak Academy charter school is almost completely constructed on the site, she said.
“Challenger Homes has set the precedent for how to do it (a land title transfer),” LaVere-Wright said. “Aspen View is the only developer to refuse to follow standard industry practice and do what is right for their communities.”
The property was purchased out of bankruptcy by Aspen View, but it was purchased as platted, which includes the school site, she said. However, since the initial platting, ongoing conversations between Aspen View, the City of Colorado Springs planners and D 49 have occurred, which indicates Aspen View was aware of the existence of the school site, LaVere-Wright said.
According to the BOE’s resolution to pursue the land dedication title transfer, “The current owner feigned ignorance on their responsibility to transfer the parcel and with conversations, written and verbal, with the City of Colorado Springs, have indicated their intention not to honor the dedication requirement.”
LaVere-Wright said if Aspen View does not want to transfer the land title, they are required to pay the fees associated with that property. Although it is not the ideal outcome, the district would be satisfied with that option, she said.
According to the BOE’s resolution, the district has made both written and verbal offers to Aspen View to entertain either a full payment for the equivalent amount of the fees in lieu of the property or to have the company transfer a comparably sized, mutually agreed upon site.
LaVere-Wright said the district has not received a response to any offer.
“These are predatory and mercenary tactics that took advantage of the bankruptcy of one person and that person’s business,” she said. “Aspen View’s purchasing that land is legitimate, but not respecting that land and that land’s intention in the community violates our community.”
In an email to “The New Falcon Herald,” Hart wrote, “I do not have any comments at this time as we are trying to work towards a solution.”
LaVere-Wright said the majority of the developers and builders D 49 works with are great. “They stand by the agreements they make with us,” she said. “Aspen View is damaging the community and damaging the reputation of the developers we have worked with who have done the right thing for years.”