June 11, 2018

Board members and staff at the Phoenix town hall meetingThe Access Board held a town hall meeting in Phoenix on May 23 that featured presentations by local speakers on various topics and a public “open mic” forum. It was held at Ability360, a Center for Independent Living. Board Vice Chair Karen Tamley and Executive Director David Capozzi opened the meeting with introductions and an overview of the Board and its work.

The first two speakers addressed access for people with heightened sensitivites to chemicals and electromagnetic fields. Dr. Ann McCampbell, Co-Chair of the Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Task Force of New Mexico, described the debilitating physical reactions experienced by those with an acute sensitivity to various chemicals in the environment, aslo known as Multiple Chemical Sensititvites (MCS). These include chemicals used in fragrances, personal care products, deodorizers, cleaners, pesticides, wall and floor coverings, and building materials. Dr. McCampbell, who has had MCS for almost 30 years, also called attention to sensitivity to electromagnetism from cell phones, security equipment, utility meters, florescent lighting, and other sources. She noted that the prevalence of Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) appears to be increasing.

Susan Molloy, M.A., an advocate for people with MCS and environmental illness for 35 years, discussed design recommendations that can improve access for people with MCS. These include installing fresh-air ventilation systems and operable windows, allowing more natrual light, avoiding carpet, and pesticide-free landscaping. To improve access for people with EHS, smart meters should be avoided or shielded. Molloy called attenion to an earlier project on indoor environmental quality that was conducted by the National Institute of Building Sciences with funding from the Access Board. She outlined findings and recommendations from the project, which are provided in a report that is avaialble on the Board’s website.

The following presentations addressed ADA compliance in the cities of Phoenix and Tempe. Phoenix ADA Coorindator Peter Fischer reviewed recent initiatives by the city to enhance accessibility under its ADA Compliance Program. He noted that the city regularly surveys facilities for compliance with the ADA and that transition plans are continuously updated to reflect city projects and programs. Several Phoenix tranportation departments have undertaken transition plans, including a city-wide program to install curb ramps and accessible pedestrian signals. Last year, over 2,000 curb ramps were replaced. Other city initiatives include a new committee on integrating accessibility in emergency planning and response, an annual awards accessibility showcase, and a “Save Our Space” campaign that enlists volunteers to help enforce accessible parking.

Michele Stokes, an ADA Compliance Specialist with the Tempe Office of Strategic Management and Diversity, noted an online resource the city has launched to collect data on accessibility issues on city property for self-evaluations and tranisiton planning. It includes a newly launched interactive map with data from digital surveys of sidewalks, curb ramps, cross walks, bus stops and pedestrian signals that will help city planners with transition planning. The surveys collect data on running and cross slopes, changes in level, such as joint heavings, surface gaps, and other features along with geographic coordinates. The city also allows the public to report access issues online and offers other resources on local accessibility.

The final speaker, Bob Hazlett of the Maricopa Association of Governments, addressed autonomous vehicles and opportunities they may offer people with disablitities, including those with vision impairments. He noted that a lot of testing of driverless vehicles is done in Arizona which is becoming known as the place “where self-driving vehicles go to learn.” While it is not known when autonomous vehicles may fully take to the road, the potential impacts on public policy and planning at the local level are being assessed, including those pertaining to parking, infrastructure, public transportation, and cybersecurity, among others.

During the public forum that followed, members of the public raised areas where more needs to be done for accessibility. Many urged action to address access for people with MCS and EHS and described how exposure to certain commonly-used chemicals and to elemtromagnetic fields jeopardize their health, limit access to health care, housing, and other services, and lead to isolation. Some commenters submitted information on the subject and endorsed the work of organziations such as the National Center for Environmental Health Strategies.

Others issues noted included the need for entrance doors to be automated, hotel beds that are too high for transfer, access to casinos, and the lack of electronic shopping carts. The Board was urged to do more outreach and training on access to medical care equipment which remains problematic despite new standards the Board issued last year for medical disagnostic equipment.

In addition, concerns were raised about access for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Several comments focused on the sound quality and availability of assistive listening systems in meeting spaces. They also addressed connectivity issues that impact video remote sign language interpretation in hospitals and the lack of communication access in pharmacies to instructions for taking medications.