Cap 10K Not So Accessible

TCRP files suit against Cox Texas and city of Austin

Cap 10K Not So Accessible

Robert Menard had been planning to take part in the Statesman's Capitol 10,000 for nearly a year. He'd trained for the race (one of the largest 10Ks in the country, according to the daily's race website) for nearly a year, and, because the race was on a Sunday, had apologized in advance to his pastor that he would not be in church on the morning of the race.

Indeed, the Cap 10K is an iconic 6.2-mile race. Participants wear costumes – some quite elaborate – and some run barefoot. This year, one participant, dressed in what appears, in a photo, to be a banana costume, pushed in front of him a wheelchair occupied by a dog – a pug decked out in a black bandana with chili peppers printed on it. Menard had competed in other races and had never had a problem; he was looking forward to participating in the Cap 10K, described as an "annual rite of spring" on the Statesman's site.

Things did not go as Menard had hoped. Instead, Cox Texas, the daily's parent company, refused to let Menard, who uses a wheelchair, participate in the race unless he could obtain a "racing wheelchair" and could certify that he had "completed a 10,000 meter race in less than 50 minutes since January 2010," according to a lawsuit filed this week on behalf of Menard by the Texas Civil Rights Project against Cox Texas Newspapers, L.P.. The requirements were necessary for "safety reasons," Menard alleges he was told. The same set of requirements were not required of anyone else – including the bedecked pug. (A photo of the pug in the wheelchair ran in the Statesman the day after the race – see page 5 of the lawsuit – and the paper's Cap 10K website features a shot of a runner pushing a baby stroller – apparently no special "racing" buggy was required.)

The suit is one of 33 TCRP filed in jurisdictions across the state on July 26 – 22 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. The ADA is a federal law (there are equivalents in state law) designed to ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to "participate fully in the social and economic life of the community," says TCRP attorney Joe Berra.

In Menard's case, the requirements placed on any racer needing to use a wheelchair were unparalleled. "Cox Texas does not impose any similar requirements on individuals without physical disabilities," reads the lawsuit. Indeed, apparently less than 15% of runners competing in the race's timed division completed the 2012 course in less than 50 minutes – meaning that Menard would have been "required to complete the race in less time than [85%] of participants who do not use wheelchairs," the suit continues. "As a result of the discriminatory [race] requirements," which violate not only the ADA , but also the state's Human Resources Code, "not a single human being using a wheelchair participated in the 2012 Cap 10K, though one dog did."

Eddie Burns, the Statesman's vice president, chief financial officer, and business manager, said in a voice message that the paper has not yet been served with the lawsuit, "so there's no comment that we have at this time."

Unfortunately, says Berra, more than two decades after the ADA was passed, there remains no shortage of places and activities that remain inaccessible to the disabled. Indeed, among the lawsuits filed this week were two against the city of Austin – including one suit that points out that although the city realigned nearly 200 parking spots along South Congress Avenue as part of the back-in angle parking plan, not a single one of those spots is handicap-accessible. Moreover, according to the lawsuit, filed on behalf of Doris Standlee and Melissa Bryan – an Austin musician – accessible parking Downtown is in woefully short supply. Indeed, not only are there few designated spots in the Entertainment District, but a handful of those that do exist are unavailable on weekend nights, when East Sixth Street and the intersecting streets – Brazos, Neches, Trinity, etc., from East Fifth to East Seventh – are blocked. Within the 14-block are that adjoins East Sixth Street with Congress Avenue and I-35, there are 556 total parking spots, reads the lawsuit, but only 11 accessible spots. That number is "inadequate and discriminatory under state law," according to the suit. The city "has done a lot of street work for cyclists and seems to have paid a lot of attention and care in doing so," Berra notes. "The same attention and care hasn't gone into considering people with disabilities."

Indeed, even when the a business or municipality does try to take accessibility into consideration, it can still fall short. Take the makeover of Deep Eddy Pool, for example, which is highlighted in a third lawsuit, brought by TCRP on behalf of Jennifer McPhail. Although a lift has been installed at the deep end of the pool, it wasn't operable on either of the days in June that McPhail was there. And while the bathhouse has a shower with a bench, the bench is so far from the shower that the water doesn't actually reach it. "Intuitively, they could have ensured that the [accessibility] features were all working together, in concert," says Berra.

As of Thursday, July 26, the city had not been served with the lawsuits, but "we are continuously working to ensure Austin is a livable city for all of our residents," reads a statement provided by the city's legal department.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

City Hall, Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, Texas Civil Rights Project, Capitol 10K, discrimination, Joe Berra, Robert Menard, Deep Eddy Pool, Melissa Bryan, Doris Standlee, Jennifer McPhail, lawsuit, courts

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