Paula Phillips’ plea for handicap accessible facilities for government meetings carries more weight than those of other concerned citizens.

“In the blink of an eye” Phillips’ family’s lives changed forever a couple of decades ago when her younger brother, Benny Evans, wrecked on his motorcycle and was left a paraplegic. Evans has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.

On Monday, Phillips and Evans came to the Limestone County Commission to complain that the building in which the Board of Education meets does not have an elevator and is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. They say the county’s lack of an elevator in the South Jefferson Street annex led to Evans’ disappointment with not being able to see is daughter receive an award.

“As you may or may not know, the May 1 meeting was not without incident,” Phillips wrote to the commission. “My niece, Sarah Evans, received an award that night. Her father, my brother, Benny Evans, who is a single parent, came to see her receive that award. Unfortunately, he was not able to do that since he is physically unable to climb steps to their meeting room. As a paraplegic, he is physically challenged.”

On Monday, Phillips said she had discussed the situation with Superintendent Barry Carroll and requested that he call the next Board of Education meeting for the commission chambers, which is on the second floor of the new Clinton Street Courthouse Annex and has an elevator.

Carroll said when contacted Monday night that he would move meetings to provide handicap accessibility anytime it is specifically requested, but it would not be “convenient” to move every meeting to another location. Carroll agreed that, “We need an elevator desperately.”

“But this is a county commission concern,” said Carroll. “They own the building.”

At Monday’s commission meeting, Phillips said that she doesn’t feel that her brother has been the target of “intentional” discrimination. “While I know that it is not intentional, it still is discrimination and discrimination comes in all forms,” Phillips said.

County Engineer Richard Sanders said that an architect and construction manager have been hired to find out if it is feasible to add an elevator to the South Jefferson Street annex. “The school board has been offered this room,” said Sanders.

County Clerk-Administrator Pam Ball said that to be in compliance with the state’s Open Meetings Law a board must give at least five days notice if they are to change the meeting place.

The Board of Education will meet in the commission chambers of the Clinton Street Annex on Thursday night. Phillips also will address that meeting.

Phillips urged the commission and any other interested public bodies to meet with Larie Ross Hunter, network administrator of the Independent Living Center in Birmingham, with whom she said she could arrange a seminar for early fall. She said Hunter would discuss the ADA and the rights of the handicapped and responsibilities of public officials.

“I hope to continue a working atmosphere, not only for Benny but for every disabled person who wants to take part in government ,” said Phillips. “Benny wouldn’t have taken anything to see his daughter get that award. Grandparents, anyone should not feel left out of a meeting.”

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