WRAL Investigates

Hundreds of DOT facilities violate federal law for disabled

Posted July 28, 2010 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated July 28, 2010 6:54 p.m. EDT

— Twenty years after the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated changes to public buildings to accommodate people with handicaps, hundreds of facilities operated by the state Department of Transportation remain out of compliance.

WRAL Investigates obtained a 48-page internal DOT report that details every violation of the ADA found by inspectors, ranging from a lack of handicapped parking or wheelchair ramps to bathroom stalls that are too small.

Violations were found in 91 of North Carolina's 100 counties and included 83 Division of Motor Vehicles driver's license offices, 100 vehicle tag offices – they are usually operated by private contractors – 30 rest areas and welcome centers and 98 other facilities, such as ferry terminals, Highway Patrol offices and administrative offices.

One of the tag offices found to be out of compliance with ADA standards is also one of only five locations in Wake County  where disabled drivers can pick up the placards that allow them to park in handicapped spaces.

The office, which is in the Holly Park Shopping Center, off Wake Forest Road in Raleigh, has no parking for people with wheelchair-accessible vans, and a cut in the curb to allow wheelchairs to get onto the sidewalk is too narrow, according to the DOT report.

"The state has a responsibility to ensure that its services are accessible," said Vicki Smith, executive director of advocacy group Disability Rights North Carolina.

If the state doesn't uphold the law, why should anyone else, Smith said.

DMV Commissioner Mike Robertson said he agrees with Smith, but he said the DOT has given each license plate agency until next January to become ADA-compliant.

"We've addressed that in our contracts," Robertson said. "They have to comply with our standard operating procedures."

Dan Johnston, the owner of the tag office in the Holly Park Shopping Center, said the property manager has told him that the center does comply with the ADA.

"At the end of the day, you've got to go back to the book and find out what it's supposed to be," Robertson said.

The DOT has drafted a 35-page plan that outlines the steps the agency plans to take to become ADA-compliant.