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Behind the Closed Door

Disabled rights activist Claude Holcomb says he can't get into the Hartford Library

By Adam Bulger

August 28, 2008

Claude Holcomb says the access ramp outside of the Hartford Public Library on Main Street goes nowhere. When the disability rights activist and Hartford resident first tried to enter the newly renovated building back in March, he found that accessibility ended at the non-accessible front door. Holcomb has cerebral palsy, and uses a wheelchair to move and either a computer or a letter pad to communicate. He was looking for an automatic button-operated handicap-accessible entrance.

"I had to wait until someone opened the door for me," Holcomb said in a written statement for the Advocate. Library employees directed him to the back of the building, which is outfitted with a handicap-accessible door, but not a button-operated one. The door is camera-monitored by a guard, who opens the door for those requiring assistance. But on his way out, he hit his talking computer on the front door. (Under the state law, the library is required to ensure handicap access in all entrances.)

Holcomb heads the disabled rights group Adapt of Connecticut, and in 2003 took part in a cross-country march in support of the right of the physically challenged to live outside of nursing homes.

The $42 million in library renovations completed this spring ensured that the building is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but Holcomb says it violates the handicap provisions of state building codes, which are stricter, and he says Library Director Louise Blalock brushed him off.

"Instead of contacting me directly, she had the nerve to have a staff member e-mail me to tell me that I had to go to the Public Works Department," Holcomb said.

Thus began a month-long back and forth between Holcomb, his advocates and the city. In March, he contacted Congressman John Larson, who sent the library a letter on his behalf. After announcing he intended to hold a rally on the library steps and block the entrance with his chair Holcomb gained the support of Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez and Councilman Larry Deutsch.

Despite that support, however, it's still unclear when the accessible door will be installed. In a series of exchanges with Holcomb, city employees say there isn't enough money, and that the glass wall on the front of the library makes such a door structurally unsound.

In June, Holcomb brought a suit against the city through the state's Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. On June 24, Holcomb received an e-mail from Evelyn Mantilla in the mayor's office of constituent services that set a tentative timetable for the door to be installed in July. On July 11, he received an e-mail from Mantilla announcing that preliminary work had begun, but that the door was eight to 10 weeks from delivery. In later e-mails, Mantilla writes that there's still no date for completion of the project.

Holcomb has concluded that city employees have made replacing the door a low priority. But he told the Advocate, "This is not just about me." He says the lack of a power door affects anyone who uses "assisted devices, such as a cane, walker, crutches or scooter."

On Aug. 22, mayoral spokesperson Sarah Barr told the Advocate the door would be installed in three weeks. It should have been good news, but after the run-around he's gotten on the issue, Holcomb is wary.

"That's B.S.," he signed on his pad upon hearing the city's timetable.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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