Braille Monitor                                                     December 2007

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Federationist Gets New Job

The Rev. Sam GleeseFrom the Editor: The Rev. Sam Gleese is a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind and president of the NFB of Mississippi. Now he is also the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) coordinator for the city of Jackson. He began his job on October 1, and the Jackson Daily News published the following story by Vicky King about the appointment on October 14, 2007:

For the first time in more than a decade, the city of Jackson has an employee dedicated to improving government services for disabled residents.

"If people with disabilities are going to finally be a part of the city, they have to be at the table where decisions are made," said Sam Gleese, who was hired by the mayor on October 1. "The public, in general, has not taken the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) very seriously. The message is, for us, the ADA is the same as the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

Gleese, who is blind, has been an advocate for the disabled community since the late 1980s. He is a National Federation of the Blind board member and has worked as a project director for Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities and for Living Independence for Everyone of Mississippi, Inc.

As the city's ADA coordinator Gleese, a Jackson resident, is responsible for ensuring that the city follows federal laws when designing public buildings, planning public events and meetings, and making other decisions that may affect disabled residents. Not only is the coordinator position helpful for the disabled community, it also is required by federal law. During the years Jackson had no ADA coordinator, it was in violation of the law and could have been subjected to federal mediation had it not come into compliance.
Mayor Frank Melton said he wanted someone from the city's disabled community to fill the position. "I want to go to the source and get as much help as possible because they live it every day," he said. "This was something that was really important to me because I haven't been there."

But Gleese also faces an uphill struggle. Because the city has not had an ADA coordinator for years, Gleese will have to forge his place in city administration. He said his first goal will be to learn the details of the Americans with Disabilities Act. "I have a broad knowledge of the ADA law, but I need to be somewhat more familiar," Gleese said. "I won't be memorizing all the statutes, but I need to review them so I know where to go to find what I may need." Gleese said he also wants to set up a system for evaluating where the city has shortfalls, starting with public transportation and employment of people with disabilities.

Complaints against the city's bus service flared up again a few months ago among disabled riders who claim many of the regular buses are ill equipped to carry passengers in wheelchairs. Riders also said the Handilift bus service, which is strictly for disabled riders, was not adequate because it is too difficult to schedule.

In late September more than two dozen disabled residents protested outside City Hall until the mayor came out to speak with them. Sitting outside on the steps, Melton promised to hire a coordinator. Melton also said he supported improving JATRAN, though he cut JATRAN's budget for the upcoming year by more than $200,000. After hiring Gleese, Melton said he wanted the Public Works Department to fix bus stops that are not accessible to riders with disabilities. But he did not give a timeline in which the improvements would be done.

Gleese, whose position is full-time, will earn $40,000 a year. The money will come from the mayor's office budget.

Christy Dunaway, executive director of Living Independence for Everyone, said besides better public transportation the city also needs to improve its housing stock. "I don't think we have enough accessible and affordable housing," she said. "We've heard about some of the poor conditions of HUD housing. The city could improve on that."

The hiring of an ADA coordinator is a "great first step" toward solutions, she said. However, many wonder whether the mayor will make good on his promise to work with Gleese and the disabled community. "The disability community will be watching and monitoring (the mayor's office) closely to ensure that there is follow-through," Dunaway said. "The committee we want to see created will help with that."

The committee, which has yet to be appointed, should consist of disabled residents from each of the city's seven wards, Gleese said. The committee would hear grievances from residents concerning services and work with city administrators to fix problems. Melton told the group of disabled residents during their meeting outside City Hall that he was open to working with a committee. "Whenever they want to set a meeting will be fine with me," Melton said.

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