When ADA Code issues are not followed or dealt with
building code inspector

My wife just had another bad fall while in her wheelchair. Having been a builder, I have often had to deal with building and rebuilding access areas and doors for the disabled and handicapped. This is not the first time my wife has fallen. But it has stressed her a lot, and she is in a lot of pain today as a result of the fall. We were able to go out and celebrate our anniversary.

We were able to go out and celebrate our anniversary by having a dinner at Zio’s Italian restaurant here in our area, but we are now dealing with the increased pain she has and the difficulties the head injury has created for her.

When we had these difficulties before I would often just take care of our immediate situation but now I have realized more and more people are having similar accidents in our area. Although our particular apartment is managed by professional and caring people, it is not the case with all apartments in our area and especially not true of the last one we lived at.

The following is an article I wrote for CNNiReports and it pretty much sums up some of the issues we are now addressing in our area. Sometimes, we need to look around and realize we are not alone. The sidewalk or the door or ramp that is a struggle for us is also a struggle for every other person who is disabled and in a wheelchair.

Sometimes we need to write a note to whoever is in the city government that represents us. It can be a Councilman or mayor’s liaison, or a specific public access office for services. But we must sometimes get involved with the local government to get effective change and improvements for the disabled and handicapped.

When the ADA Code is not Applied or Enforced in Construction

Have you ever had a day when you are just doing okay? You are not doing super nor are you failing, but everything is as good as it can be considering limitations and necessities. And then the awful and unthinkable happens and life is suddenly upsetting and things are no longer flowing smoothly.

Our family has a lot of those times. My wife is in a wheelchair and has been for 37 years plus. I am a former builder and am also now disabled as I wait for corrective surgery to repair some damage to my spine after a serious fall into an unsecured open manhole. I am hoping that I will make a comeback, but my wife is going to always be in that wheelchair.

Life is difficult for the disabled and handicapped. What is a normal routine for the average walking person is often a huge challenge for people in wheelchairs. I am often frustrated because of the fact that we as a society don’t recognize the obvious and we often do not apply the basic common sense to an issue.

One would think that after years of ADA Code revisions, to address the needs of disabled and handicapped citizens that we would no longer have obvious blatant and oft times stupid, failures to properly construct access to public places and safety rails and curbs.

The City of Albuquerque is a good example. The powers that be tooted their horns because the city placed in the top ten cities to live if a person was disabled. REALLY? I would hate to live in the others that are not so highly ranked! And I wonder just who ranked us there in that bracket? Because the fact is, we are not doing so hot in being safe for disabled people to be living here.

Having lived and breathed construction most of my adult life, I had to be aware of The ADA code. It is simply a set of guidelines and rules written under the American with Disabilities Act, that are to be followed when building public buildings, large apartment complexes and commercial properties and retail spaces. The code includes guidelines for bathrooms and restrooms, as well as door entrances to buildings and sidewalks.

If you were out apartment shopping at all in the City of Albuquerque you will quickly realize that many places are not at all built to accommodate the handicapped and wheelchair bound person. Some of that is due to the fact that older structures are grandfathered into the approval because they were built before the code was written and passed into law. But that is only for the older buildings. New structures must have walks and entrances set up for handicap access. They must have an accessible restroom and bathrooms in the public areas, and sidewalks must have an access ramp for wheelchairs when the walk is elevated above the parking lot. Where there is a danger of falling there should be a railing or curb to prevent wheelchairs from going over the side and tipping.

My wife had another of those incidents last week. This is not the first time we have had her lose her balance due to uneven surfaces, but our treatment was definitely different this time. We were living in an apartment in Northeast Albuquerque and she flipped backward when her left wheel dropped off the edge of the sidewalk into a low area where landscaping had washed and eroded.

In that case her accident occurred on June 18, and we asked the apartment management to fill the low spot which did not get done until I threatened a lawsuit in September. That unit was a declared ADA Compliant unit. They had to meet higher standards and yet La Paloma Apartments of Albuquerque had not even taken care of many basics for tenants. When I googled their business I found pages of bad reviews and ratings. Wish we had checked that before we rented. The management have stonewalled us ever since that incident. Even though my wife flipped backward and slammed her head into the sidewalk and had a long recovery complete with swelling of the skull, slurred speech and the usual symptoms of a serious concussion.

When I protested to the city officials in the Inspection department, the situation was ignored. I photographed the hole and the other issues were documented, and we looked for a new place to live.

I was very frustrated that even though the City was literally bullying me on our own home remodel and talking of how the ramps and access to entrances had to meet the code, they were completely silent when it came to a place where there was an obvious and blatant code violation. Now we are living in a different apartment on the west side that is about a decade old. It should definitely be to current code, right? Uh, no. There is a failure by builders to add the required handrails in those danger areas and there is evidently no oversight by Building inspectors to ensure the code was followed. The builder got the Occupation certificate without adding handrails.

The usual reaction is to file a lawsuit and go to court. Or to write a petition and acquire enough signers to carry out a change in the administration of the code.

But why is that necessary? Why is it that we as a society have to wait until someone is crippled or killed before we get things right? Why can we not see the need to resolve issues before they erupt? It doesn’t take much in thinking to see that this situation was an accident waiting to happen. One elderly person losing their balance while using a walker, or someone in a wheelchair like my wife who goes over the edge when her wheel slips off the sidewalk, and suddenly someone has a life changing or life threatening event.

It seems at times we take care of pets and have more concern for pets in our courts than we do for human beings. That is sad! Don’t you agree? When we can cut so many corners and leave so many loose ends in our public access it raises serious questions about our priorities and values.

Before I had that fall through a city manhole that was unmarked and unsecured, I was employed by a Property Management Company. We were often working long hours to ensure the safety of people that shopped the stores we took care of. Having had that work experience only increases my frustration at the haphazard and irrational city reaction to code violations. As I said before, all through our home renovation, we have been harassed and bullied and threatened and generally mistreated by a few city officials. Not unlike the situation where a few foolish and arrogant cops ruined the reputation and the quality and integrity of the majority of the APD who are some of our finest people. But we failed to weed out the city employees that are making the messes and stepping out of line. WHY?

The question begs an answer! Councilman Dan Lewis introduced a bill in the city council to impose an ethics standard and training on city employees, but it is way past due and many years too late.

We are a little more fortunate this time. The current apartment home we have is managed by some good people. When my wife fell they were there to take care of her. They got an ambulance on the scene and she was properly cared for by apartment management staff until she was in the hospital. Pity there are not more such people. It would be so much easier for the handicapped in the area. But sadly, those young women in the office here are the exception and not the rule.

So we deal with the fallout. Swelling in the skull, staples to hold scalp together, and pounding throbbing headaches while she recovers. Of course, the long sleep and rest periods. all of which requires her being watched as too much sleeping and drowsiness is a sign of more serious issues. There is also the extra care and watching that must be done. The new doctor visits, and the new scans, MRI’s and the x-rays. The days get more filled and busier but the time remains the same, making caregiving even more stressful and wearing.

People say we should start a petition. I ask why should we have to? Don’t our city leadership have enough sense to hold Code enforcement accountable or to make sure the Building inspections are properly done?

What’s your experience been like? Share your story in the comments below.

Written by David Waterman
I am a spousal caregiver. I have had a lot of serious accidents in dangerous construction jobs. My recovery has not always been smooth but I did learn how my wife feels when she is bed bound for long periods. With similar experiences in our past I have a better understanding of what she needs to be comfortable. I also spent years involved in Christian ministry and the principles of Christianity apply so well to this life I lead now and give much needed stability when all other things are so often in the air.

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  1. Theresa, There is actually a Senator or Representative in Washington that is wheel chair bound part of the time. She has been advocating for veterans after she found that her chair would not fit through doors. And yes, ramps even at some rest homes and hospitals are too steep and exceed the ADA code guidelines. The lesson your grandson learned while trying to get around in the wheelchair needs to be learned by all lawmakers and officials. I think it would be an eye opening experience.

  2. I agree with your post and have seen so many areas that need better accessibility ..

    And it’s true , unless someone one has an accident or almost has one , nothing changes..

    Maybe there should be a person that checks out accessibly in every building by actually riding in a wheelchair or using crutches or a cane or walker etc..

    I don’t think such a person exists

    In my grandsons high school , they have a class for a week and each child has to try and get around the school in a wheel chair.. He was so amazed at how hard it was for him And it opened his eyes to what people go through each day ..

    My husband uses a walker and wheelchair , so after that class my grandson said. ” grandpa I’m young and I had a hard time going up those ramps, I can imagine how hard it is for you doing it at your age”
    He said the ramps were too high and the doors through out the school were not accessible..

    Maybe teaching the younger people that way is a start..

    Grandson drew up what changes he would make in the school..

    I’m so sorry you and your wife are going through this..
    Many times when you report something that is wrong , people get defensive and standoffish , not realizing ” there but for the Grace of God go I”

    You are trying to make things better for everyone now and in the future..

    I report anything I see wrong in the hospitals and nursing homes as I spend so much time there..

    I go to the top

    So far everyone has been very responsive and seem to want to correct things and I have seen positive changes in our local hospitals and nursing homes.

    My husband had a wheelchair in the nursing home that would not fit through any of the doorways .. Bathroom , dining hall , meeting rooms etc.. Unbelieveable

    And the rooms are too small for two people and all the equipment that is needed for each person ..

    Walkers, wheelchairs, rolling tables, oxygen , big boy beds, bedside commodes, chairs for visitors ,

    I am so careful walking through that maze

    Bless you both


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