Recently, I wrote an article for Public Source about local disability rights activists’ decades-long advocacy for solutions to the Pittsburgh’s “one-step” problem — that is, the single step that prevents wheelchair users from entering many businesses in city neighborhoods.
The city, likewise, has looked for ways to encourage businesses, as public entities, to remove entry barriers and meet their responsibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As a federal civil right law, the city cannot enforce the ADA or force businesses to create accessible entries. The ADA is a complaint-driven law. Citizens file complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Advocates understood that the city has been part of the one-step problem. Following the Pennsylvania Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), the city issues building permits to businesses. These permits require 20 percent of construction budgets to cover ADA improvements, but the UCC does not prioritize which ADA improvements must be done. Consequently, many businesses have installed accessible restrooms and other ADA features, while retaining a step at the entrance. Oakland for All, an accessibility advocacy group, has identified 300 examples of this outcome in city neighborhoods.
Advocates approached City Councilwoman Deb Gross for her support of a change in the city’s building code. On July 10, Gross proposed legislation that requires businesses to create a “zero-step” public entry, when none exists, during renovation. A public hearing on the legislation will be scheduled for September. If City Council passes the legislation, the state Department of Labor and Industry must approve the change.
Mayor Peduto said he supports the change and, furthermore, would like to see the adoption of the accessible entry standard in the state building code. Additionally, he has proposed allocating $100,000 to the city’s One-Step program, which helps business owners remove entrance barriers.
If the city’s appeal to change its building code is successful, Pittsburgh will move “one step” closer to becoming a disability-friendly city. The collaboration of the advocates and city officials on the current issue is heartening, but advocates and officials agree the city is not “there” yet.