July 26 marks the 31st anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since counties provide essential services, ensuring those services are accessible to everyone is critical, besides being mandated by law. County magazine highlights three examples of county initiatives that have improved residents’ experience with local government.
Accessible parking enforcement volunteer program
Travis County Constable Precinct 5 uses citizen volunteers to assist with accessible parking enforcement. Constable Carlos Lopez says the program has been in place since 1996, after the passage of House Bill 2083 by the Texas Legislature in 1995. Travis County Precinct 5 was the first entity to create an accessible parking enforcement volunteer program.
“Some people, when they go to the grocery store and see a vehicle parked in disabled parking without a placard, think, ‘I wish I had a ticket book to write them a ticket,’” Lopez said. “This program allows them to do what they’ve always wanted to do. Following a training, we give citizen volunteers a ticket book.”
Before the pandemic, the program boasted 75 volunteers, who together with Precinct 5 deputies, issued more than 2,000 tickets a year for accessible parking violations. The program has been on hiatus during the pandemic while the courts have been closed, but Lopez looks forward to bringing it back.
“This is about awareness as much as enforcement,” he said. “Everyone knows someone who has needed accessible parking in the past or will need it in the future. Being able to park and get safely inside the library or the grocery store, it’s a right to have access.”
The program has been self-sustaining. He encourages interested counties to start small, with a pilot program, if there is hesitancy from the commissioners court. “Accessible parking benefits everyone. We’re all going to be there one day.”
Courthouse entrance renovation
Accessible entrances benefit everyone, as Winkler County residents discovered after the completion of a 2019 project to improve accessibility at their 1929 courthouse.
“Previously, we had a makeshift accessible entrance on the side of the building, but visitors needed to ring a doorbell and have a staff member open the door,” Winkler County Judge Charles Wolf said.
Those who entered through the front wrestled with the heavy doors and took their chances with a lip at the bottom of the door frame, which was a trip hazard.
Now, the courthouse has a ramp and electric doors at the front entrance, as well as new sidewalks around the building that connect to the designated parking area.
Wolf bundled the initiative with an outdoor beautification project that included landscaping, tree trimming and an irrigation system, and the overall effect has more people visiting the courthouse and grounds, he said.
“Initially, there was some concern around the county that we would be changing the character of the courthouse, but the benefits speak for themselves,” Wolf said. “It looks nice. It’s completely ADA-compliant. It was important, and I was glad to get it done.”
Improving service with a hearing loop
Strong partnerships with community groups can help uncover accessibility improvements, especially those involving technology. The Williamson County tax assessor-collector’s office recently accepted a donation from the Sertoma Club of Georgetown of a portable hearing loop.
A hearing loop brings sound directly into a person’s T-coil-enabled hearing aids or cochlear implant, improving clarity and understanding.
Tax Assessor-Collector Larry Gaddes expects the device to benefit many who visit the tax office. Nearly 30% of Georgetown’s population is of retirement age, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
The portable hearing loop requires no software or wires to install, and after a quick training, the staff is ready to use it. Because it’s small, the device can be moved from one customer service window to another. The device has a range of 3 feet.
“I really empathize with people experiencing hearing loss, especially considering the challenges of trying to communicate and hear while wearing masks and through plexiglass,” Gaddes said. “I wish I had known about hearing loops last March; we would have had one from day one.”
The Sertoma Club is a nonprofit service organization primarily focused on issues of hearing loss. Located throughout the U.S., the clubs have been implementing a national initiative to equip local government spaces with hearing loop technology.
Gaddes sees additional benefits, too, such as improved customer service and accuracy.
“My office helps you register your vehicle in your name, for example, and the VIN (vehicle identification number) is 16 characters long. We have to be able to communicate and be understood,” Gaddes said. “Clear communication is priceless. If you can communicate clearly with your customers, that’s a great place to be.”
Get More Information
Travis County Constable Precinct 5 offers a toolkit for starting an accessible parking enforcement volunteer program.
Watch an overview video, then download the toolkit.
Learn more about Sertoma and find a local club.