BEND, Ore. - The city of Bend received a letter Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Justice, saying it has closed its files on enforcing the city's 2004 Project Civic Access settlement agreement for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The letter from the Department of Justice says, "Your city has acceptably progressed in compliance with the Settlement Agreement." The letter signifies that the Department of Justice acknowledges the time and effort the city has invested in bringing this matter to a positive resolution.
However, in Thursday's city announcement, it says the DOJ's decision to not keep pressing and overseeing future improvements, such as the many sidewalk curb ramps needing retrofitting, "does not change the city's commitment to improving accessibility throughout the city by upgrading curb ramps and sidewalks, maintaining accessible features within city facilities and working collaboratively with various disability committee groups in the community."
"The city will continue to increase and improve accessibility infrastructure throughout the City of Bend," said Karin Morris, the city's accessibility manager.
26-year-old Bend resident Aubrey St. Clair was born with cerebral palsy.
"Essentially it means that my muscles misfire so my muscles never get the message from my brain to stop firing so i use a walker to facilitate mobility," St. Clair said Thursday.
She relies on her walker to get around, but when she comes across stairs or even a snag in the sidewalk, getting around gets a lot harder.
"The popping wheelies isn't the best way to get over it, I can do that but if I'm not paying attention and it catches your foot, I'm on the ground," she said.
For Aubrey, accessibility is key. She says she can see the improvements the city is making, but there is always room for more.
"It's always going to be a challenge, there's something we can do to make it better but I think the idea that people are aware of what's going on is a big piece for me," Aubrey said.
The city also will periodically update its transition plan and continually look at areas across the city in need of accessibility improvements, according to Morris.
The 2004 settlement agreement resulted from a complaint filed by four disabled residents in 2001 with the Department of Justice, claiming that the city had not taken steps to provide access to its programs and services.
In the 2004 settlement case with the DOJ, the city agreed to provide curb ramps or other sloped areas at all intersections of the streets, roads, and highways identified as having curbs or other barriers to entry from a street level pedestrian walkway.
The latest amendment to the settlement required the city to complete the work by March of 2015, though the city has publicly stated it did not expect it would be able to meet that deadline.
"The city has, however, made considerable progress toward its goals," Thursday's announcement said.
The city has made sure its website, public meeting notices, services and events are accessible. All of the city's public facilities, including City Hall, Police and Public Works facilities, are now accessible.
The city recently hired a new accessibility manager who meets with several disability advocacy groups and has created an accessibility advisory board that provides assistance and guidance to the city manager on accessibility issues.
"I greatly appreciate accessibility advocates for bringing these important issues to the forefront, and for pushing progress toward these goals," said City Manager Eric King. "Of course, I'm pleased with the announcement from the Department of Justice, but it doesn't change the path the city will continue to follow toward making Bend accessible for everyone."
- For more information on progress to date and future plans for further improvements, see the City of Bend's Transition Plan: