Lakeland to improve accessibility

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 Victoria Salvatore

 A public input open house meeting was held at the Lakeland Public Library on Feb. 19, regarding Lakeland’s Americans with Disabilities Act Self-Evaluation and Transition Plan.

The public was invited to attend a meeting where a presentation was given by a representative from the Disability Access Consultants that explained how Lakeland will be moving forward to make the city more inclusive for those with disabilities. 

City officials were looking for residents to come and give input on how they think Lakeland could become more accessible.

“The self-evaluation was put in motion within the last 5 years,” City of Lakeland ADA Specialist Jenny Sykes said. “The first step was to work with Kimley-Horn (engineering consultants) to get an initial assessment.”

The city looked at five different firms to work with and eventually chose Disability Access Consultants because they work solely on helping with accessibility issues.

The representative from Disability Access Consultants, Barbara Thorpe, presented the project overview. The firm looked at parks, the library, parking lots and more to assess Lakeland’s accessibility.

The city’s programs, services, activities, events and procedures were also evaluated to see if there was possible discrimination. 

In their study, the firm looked at the accessibility of 49 facilities, 42 parks, 340 miles of sidewalk, 70 intersections and 2,645 curb ramps.

Following the presentation, the floor was opened for citizens to ask questions or give input on how they thought accessibility could be improved. 

 One man that spoke wondered why Lakeland was just now adhering to the American Disabilities Act, since it has been around for many years. 

Sykes explained that the city has been involved with making accessibility a focus and that it’s now more of a concentrated project than before.

“The standards have changed,” mayor Bill Mutz said. “We’re ripping out things that have been done. We have ramps but they’re not up to standard anymore.”

One citizen that had just moved to Lakeland voiced his appreciation for all that Lakeland has done for accessibility although he added that when he went to city hall, he had difficulty parking. 

Thorpe mentioned that while Lakeland may not be the best city in terms of accessibility, she would say the city is above average.

The city has already taken measures to be more inclusive such as adding two accessible viewing areas at Lake Morton, making an accessible viewing area at the Christmas parade and creating better parking at Lake Hollingsworth and Munn Park.

“My goal is people will google the most accessible city and Lakeland will come up,” Sykes said.

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