Ron Lehr loves sushi. Since he is in a wheelchair, it used to be
difficult for him to get into one of his favorite Japanese
Thanks to modifications made by a local business owner,
wheelchair-users like Lehr can now enjoy raw fish like everyone
He used to be unable to enter Suehiro’s Japanese Restaurant, 223
Linden St., without someone pulling him up the restaurant’s steep
The Old Town establishment was not wheelchair accessible because
of a loophole in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The 1990 act stipulates that all newly constructed public
buildings must be handicap accessible. It does not require older
structures to comply with the act if modifications allowing for
handicapped accessibility would compromise the building’s
As a result of this historical clause, Suehiro’s landlord said
it would be impossible to build a concrete ramp granting wheelchair
user accessibility to the restaurant. Horizon West Property
Management, which oversees many of the properties in Old Town, said
the ramp would take up too much room and destroy the aesthetics of
According to city of Fort Collins building standards, a ramp can
increase a maximum of 1 inch in height for every foot in length.
This means a 6-foot concrete ramp would have been needed to get
wheelchair-users over the restaurant’s 6-inch front steps.
“They said their hands were pretty much tied, so we came up with
our own solution to the problem,” said Suehiro’s owner Ed
To make his business accessible despite his landlord resistance,
Kendall constructed a portable ramp that can be placed at the
restaurant’s back entrance.
Kendall said he has four regular customers who are
wheelchair-users. Whenever one of them wants to stop by, Kendall
said he/she will call ahead and let him know to put down the
“Even the heavy electric wheelchairs can zip right up it,”
While Suehiro’s has taken steps to assist its disabled
customers, many Old Town businesses still remain inaccessible to
“Usually the newer the building, the better the accessibility,”
Lehr said. “Most places I can get into, sometimes through a detour
around the main entrance, but there are some places I just can’t
Rosemary Kreston, director of Resources for Disabled Students at
CSU, said Fort Collins ranks in the middle of the pack for
“Sometimes we do really well and sometimes we do really crappy,”
Kreston said. “The city tries really hard but I don’t necessarily
think the private businesses do.”
Officials said the uniform building code used by the city of
Fort Collins is the reason why city property is highly accessible
to disabled persons.
This code describes accessibility guidelines in great detail and
is used for all city-related construction. Federal guidelines, the
Americans with Disabilities Act and community feedback were all
consulted in writing this code.
“Internally, what we try to do is make our buildings as
accessible as possible,” said Jarod Inperhoilzinger, a city of Fort
Collins employee who helps oversee the maintenance and construction
As Lehr’s sushi dilemma shows, something as small as one step
can make an entire building inaccessible to someone in a
Alison Dawson, a case manager at Disabled Resource Center, said
many buildings get caught in this trap of being halfway
For example, a public restroom may have a handicap-accessible
stall, but the bathroom itself may have steps leading up to it or a
door that is too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair.
“It is a tricky thing because sometimes they will say it is
accessible and it really isn’t,” she said.
Though there are regulations in place to help ensure all people
are able to reach all public buildings, Dawson said enforcement of
these regulations can be lax at times.
If a person in a wheelchair could not get in the door of a
modern grocery store, the establishment would likely be fined and
forced to remodel.
However, if a wheelchair user could easily enter the supermarket
and navigate its aisles, it is unlikely that any action would be
taken if the store’s only restrooms were inaccessible.
At CSU, issues of partial and total handicap accessibility may
be gaining more attention each year.
Between five and 10 wheelchair-users are currently enrolled at
CSU and another 30 students have other physical impairments
preventing them from walking or sitting for long periods of
Though there are always new improvements to be made, Kreston has
seen an increase in campus accessibility for disabled persons
during her 23 years at CSU.
“I’ve seen a change from me having to remind them about
accessibility to them just doing it,” she said.
Sometimes large changes, such as adding an elevator, take place.
Other times, a reduced budget means smaller changes, like adding
curb cuts or automatic doors, are all that can be done.
About 96 percent of campus buildings are wheelchair accessible.
Two barriers to accessibility are Ammons Hall and Johnson Hall
because they are not equipped with elevators.
“The buildings on the Oval are historical so we can’t rearrange
the designs and we have to keep all the original architecture
intact,” said Janet Vigil, night manager of building services. “It
doesn’t make it OK not to have elevators, but the cost is
prohibitive – especially given the big budget recess.”
Only two of the residence halls, Braiden and Allison, are fully
handicap accessible. This puts wheelchair-users at a disadvantage
because they are unable to live on specialty floors with peers of
similar academic backgrounds.
A student in a wheelchair studying biology would be unable to
live on the natural sciences community floor because it is located
in Ingersoll Hall.
In cases where a student has a class in an inaccessible
building, he or she can speak to the professor and get the
classroom location changed.
Through relying on friends and support from assistive agencies,
many people with mobility restrictions are finding ways around the
narrow doorways and tall stairs that stand in their way.