Sidewalk projects aim to give leg up to disabled

When Ben McMullan comes to a curb, it’s a little difficult for him to step down onto the road.

McMullan, 29, has cerebral palsy, which affects a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. For those who are in wheelchairs or who have trouble walking, curb-cut ramps make it easier to cross the street, he said.

To accommodate the needs of disabled people, Burlingame has outlined roughly $400,000 worth of projects that officials say need to be completed in the next couple of years. Last month, City Council members approved the latest round of upgrades, focused on sidewalk ramps, curbs and gutters.

Burlingame sets aside $100,000 annually for projects to improve access for the disabled, according to Public Works Director Syed Murtuza.

Diana Conti — executive director for Parca, a Burlingame nonprofit that provides programs and services for people with disabilities and their families — said such accommodations ensure access for everyone, despite the costs.

“I know everyone’s cutting back and times are tough,” she said, “but this is necessary.”

Such improvements are also legally mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In addition to prohibiting discrimination and requiring equal opportunity in the workplace for people with disabilities, the federal law mandates that accommodations be made to ensure access to public facilities, state and local government services, and transportation.

Last month, the trial for a class action lawsuit charging that the California Department of Transportation has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not installing curb ramps on sidewalks throughout the state began in Oakland in federal court.

McMullan, who works for the Center for Independence of the Disabled in San Mateo, said he’s lived in Washington, D.C., and California cities and by far the West Coast has more accessibility improvements. But that doesn’t mean there are enough.

“A city, no matter where it is, can always reach bigger heights,” he said. “There’s always room to improve.”

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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