For Homer residents with disabilities, accessibility is a waiting game

Jun 15, 2019

Tess Dally near the Islands and Oceans Visitor Center in Homer.
Credit Tess Dally

The Homer City Council recently adopted an American with Disabilities Act Transition Plan to make Homer more accessible. Legally, the city should have implemented a plan years ago but because of lack of oversight, it’s just now accomplishing that goal.

Tess Dally is trying to hoist herself onto a wheelchair accessible trail near Bishops Beach. At least, it’s supposed to be accessible.

This section of the trail near the water doesn’t have a small ramp for wheelchair users to get onto the metal walkway that makes it accessible. It’s only about five inches off the ground, but that can make it extremely difficult for Dally to just get on the trail.

“It's very humiliating to do this, and I had to get out and sit on my bottom and then lift the chair, pull the chair up over the four or five inches, and now I'm on my knees wiping the dirt off my bottom and pulling myself up on the chair,” she said.

This is far from the only frustration Dally deals with around Homer, and she said these things add up.

“I mean how many times do I have to go through what you just saw before—I’m just not sure I’m going to go out today because it’s just too hard,” she said.

It’s why she joined Homer’s American with Disabilities Act Compliance Committee and helped craft a transition plan that’s aimed at making Homer more accessible. The plan evaluated about a dozen public spaces and identified a number of projects to bring those areas into compliance with the ADA. The plan, which was just recently adopted, also lays out a proposed timeline for those projects.  

But executive director of Homer’s Independent Living Center Joyanna Geisler, who is also on the ADA committee, said the city was actually required to develop a transition plan decades ago.

“As of 1991, with the Americans with Disabilities Act, every state and local government should have a transition plan that looks at their facilities and their policies to ensure that there is equal access for people with disabilities,” she said.

But why did it take so long?

“So they have a responsibility to do that but there's no oversight to make sure that that is done,” she said. “So to bring it to light, in my experience anyway, there needs to be a complaint.”

Lucky for the city, it wasn’t a complaint that actually brought its transition plan about a few years ago. It was former Homer resident Rick Malley, who is visually impaired, that eventually asked the city to address the issue.

“We had support with the city council and it just moved from there,” he said. “It moved very quickly, actually. We had a several residents in town come forward to serve on this committee.”

Malley moved to the Boston area shortly after that, in part because he had trouble navigating Homer. Despite no longer being a resident, he said he’s impressed with the city’s commitment to becoming compliant decades after the ADA was passed.

“They just took it and ran with it,” he said. “And most towns don’t, they fight it.”

Smaller issues in the city’s transition plan are already being addressed, but just like the creation of the plan in the first place, larger projects will take time due to funding constraints and lack of other resources.

Back on at the trail, Dally said she’s happy with the progress, but she wishes change could come faster.

“Waiting a few years is a big frustration,” she said. “We've already waited 29 years.”