Residents say city hall not handicapped accessible
NEWPORT, R.I. —
Zack Bastian gets out of his wheelchair to make a point. "There are many people in this town that can't get in this building."
Bastian is talking about Newport City Hall. He goes up the front steps on his backside, picking up his legs. He climbs the 21 wet steps slowly.
"This is going to be tough, all the way to the top," he says on the way up. Once inside city hall, he has 25 more steps to get to the city council meeting on the third floor where he wants to speak.
On the way up, someone asked why he didn't take the elevator. He said the door is too narrow for his wheelchair.
Bastian delivered his message to the city council. And he's not the first to do so. In 2011, NBC 10 covered a protest about accessibility at Newport City Hall.
In response his message, Mayor Henry Winthrop told NBC 10, "Everyone has to recognize this is a very, very old building."
Winthrop admits the situation is not ideal. "We're trying to make every single effort that we can for reasonable access to every citizen."
He says they've hired a contractor to look at the elevator, that all meetings that do not require video cameras have been moved elsewhere, and anyone can watch a video link of a city council meeting down the street at the police station.
On that last point, Bastian, says "That's kind of insulting. We're residents, too and it should be a meeting inclusive to all residents."
And when NBC 10 went to the police station, the link wasn't set up. We were told it's only set up if someone makes a request before a meeting.
There is a chair lift in city hall but Bastian said city workers told him earlier in the day they weren't sure if it was working.
Later, a worker says it does work, but not all wheelchairs will fit on it and it takes 10 to 15 minutes to go all the way up.
Bastian says, "It's a sketchy system. It's an old system. These are not appropriate accommodations for a city hall. There are so many people with different disabilities, with different wheelchairs or scooters that can't use this."
Winthrop says the city looked at upgrading the lift system but couldn't get a contractor to bid on it. The city is looking at what it would cost to replace the current elevator. That review is due in April.