Saturday, January 31, 2009

Public and accessible?

My frustrations with governmental bureaucracy have escalated since recent visits to the Guilford County Courthouse. I can empathize with the paper trails and the fact that these folks have to deal with the "general" public so my complaints are not typical. My disgust is focused on the maze of navigating entry. The architect designing this place should be shot and the idiots that approved the plan should be sentenced to navigating the facility daily sans use of "employee only" doorways.

Herein is my saga. According to county ordinances, my mother needed to file my father's will within one year of his death. He passed away in November and she wants to get these types of needling tasks out of the way. Everything they owned is either in her name or jointly titled. She is the sole heir and executrix - very tidy and uncomplicated.

Mom has COPD and has a handicapped parking identification tag. She drives as little as possible and I have been taking her on these more complicated excursions. The day we went happened to be the coldest for our area this year (around 19 degrees by mid-day). I concede that it was a poor choice of days in relation to her health but I can't help the weather didn't cooperate with my schedule.

The Estates office is in the Guilford County Courthouse which shares a courtyard with the Greensboro Municipal building. I've bounced around in both buildings and can get around fairly well. This was my first trip trying to navigate with a physically challenged person since 9/11 and Homeland Security.

We parked in a "wheelie" spot in the shared parking lot and walked to an entrance about 50 feet away marked "Handicapped." This entrance went into the municipal building but I knew we could go through the building, up an elevator and easily cut across the courtyard.I pushed a speaker button to gain access to the building. The woman asked where we were going. I responded and she said, "I'm sorry but I can't let you in this door. You have to go over to the courthouse entrance." I quickly explained mom needed to get out of the cold ASAP and the courthouse entrance was up a huge flight of stairs. The unidentified voice apologized, refused our entrance and said we could enter the courthouse on the street level through their handicapped entrance.

We turned around and walked across the parking lot, the entire length of the county building (about a half a block), turned the corner and walked another 50 feet to a wheelchair ramp. At the bottom of the ramp were two sets of darkly tinted doors. One set had signs "NO ENTRANCE" and the other set were marked "EMPLOYEES ONLY." The employee entrance was unlocked so I went in prepared to spout ADA regulations if we were refused access. Inside the lobby, a glass wall separated the two sets of doors. The security guard on the "no entrance" side started yelling and came around to our side. She was mean, ugly and yelling: "You can't come in this way. You have to use the main entrance" I retorted, "We're not leaving - she's disabled and we can't navigate the steps. Where's the handicapped entrance?" Ms. "Beulah Balbricker" instructed us to come into the "no entrance" side which is the handicapped entrance. On that side, they had the security scanners and walk-through. I said, "We didn't know we could come in here because it says 'no entrance.'" Beulah said they don't mark it as handicapped because if they did, everyone would suddenly become handicapped. I didn't say anything - I COULDN'T say anything - my jaw was hanging open. I think God had a hand in it, too because if I had been able to speak, the words that would have come forth would have caused my certain arrest. Mom needed a ride home so I stayed out of jail.

We passed one set of non-public elevators located next to the handicapped-marked-no-entrance-entrance and walked through a labyrinth of hallways to get to the public elevators which are adjacent to the courtyard entrance on the far side of the building. Then we walked back through the halls to get to the Estates office, which is located directly above the handicapped-marked-no-entrance-entrance.

Thankfully, the folks in the Estate office are very kind, helpful and maintain the atmosphere of a funeral home - very unlike the scallywags wandering the halls around courtrooms and paying fines at the clerk of court's office.

We worked our way back downstairs and I told mom to wait by the door. I dashed out to the lot to retrieve the car. Looking at my watch, the meter was going to run out any minute. Looking across the lot, the officer was already writing a ticket. I approached and started a futile argument. 1) We're in a handicapped spot so getting back on the dot might not be possible, especially with the maze that takes longer to navigate; 2) the meter JUST ran out; 3) accessibility is pathetic meaning they take advantaged of disabled folks by charging more for parking or issuing tickets knowing it will take them longer to get into and out of the building.

The meter maid (or meter male in this case) apologized because 1) he didn't know when the meter ran out since he was just coming back from lunch 2) once he starts issuing a ticket, he can't stop.

Again, I mumbled under my breath to avoid arrest.

We filed the will but there is debate over what type of letter we need for one insurance company. One document will cost around $60 the other only $30. I went back on my own (using the stairs which were unkind to my asthma) but there is still debate, so after clarifying between my mom and the insurance company, I will trek up there for a third trip.

I treasure the fact that I can be of help to my mom. I do not mind the files, documents and other red tape. I'll empty my purse, show that my camera is really a working photographic device, demonstrate that my penlight has dead batteries, walk through scanners and let the guard "do me with his magic wand." What I do mind is the hodgepodge of locked doors, barriers, yellow tape, and obstacle courses established for taxpayers to gain entry into a "PUBLIC" building.

Below - the view is of the courthouse steps. The county building's handicapped entrance is hidden and unmarked behind these stairs. Currently, the entrance of the courthouse is sloppily cordoned off with yellow tape and everyone must go to the opposite side of the building.

View Larger Map

Below, the view of the parking lot shows the city's handicapped entrance (straight ahead) with the handicapped parking just to the right. If you navigate the view a bit, and look behind the tree on the left,you can see the steps that unchallenged pedestrians are supposed to climb in order to access the county building.

View Larger Map


  1. First Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, and then 9/11, changed a lot of things, both functionally and aesthetically, about government buildings. Buildings all over the country, which I had easily navigated for years during my travels, suddenly became chaotic. It's not about individuals any longer; it's about institutions.

  2. That is just shocking about the unmarked handicapped entrance. Isn't that illegal??

  3. To answer Janet, according to the American Disabilities Act (link is in the text of post)
    "Building Signage... Elements and spaces of accessible facilities which shall be identified by the International Symbol of Accessibility and which shall comply with 4.30.7 are:...
    (c) Accessible entrances when not all are accessible (inaccessible entrances shall have directional signage to indicate the route to the nearest accessible entrance)"
    This means the county is not in compliance.
    As for the Logistician, I do understand the need for protecting institutions and, of course, the people within those walls. What I don't understand is the failure of the county to maintain an aesthetic appearance, demonstrating a sense of pride in the community and the county's lack of accessible entrances. The issues could be easily resolved with a few adjustments. I am strong proponent of non-intrusive accommodations. One's need for an accommodation should not, and does not need to, interfere with the mainstream population. We all have special needs at one time or another - the pregnant woman, the man with a broken leg, the family with a toddler. By having "accessible" establishments we have community-friendly sites. The N.C. Agency on Aging has a statewide initiative to create "senior friendly" communities. Instead of using the term "senior" they encourage use of "community" because the store with wider aisles is helpful for strollers; large print price tags make reading easier for everyone. What benefits one sector of the population is certain to entertain benefits for all. Security does not have to be compromised but closed minds do.