Apr 082004
Authors: Alicia Leonardi

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

front steps.

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

historical significance.

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

the building.

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,”

Kendall said.

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

get into.”

Rosemary Kreston, director of Resources for Disabled Students at

CSU, said Fort Collins ranks in the middle of the pack for

wheelchair accessibility.

“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

of buildings.

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.

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