Elaine Canady, a long-time advocate for people with disabilities and staunch supporter of the Americans with Disabilities Act, admits that she has been more than a little frustrated attempting to make city officials aware of some flagrant violations of the ADA at King Biscuit Blues Festival and other local festivals.
Canady, an ardent lover of the blues and the KBBF, wrote Helena-West Helena Mayor Arnell Willis and city council members in a letter dated Oct. 17, “Over the years there have been numerous violations but this year was particularly frustrating not only for me personally, but for all people with disabilities that wanted to use the Helena Levee Walk. There is only one way for people in wheelchairs to get on the levee walk and that is down by the Delta Cultural Center.”
Canady's letter included three photo attachments. The first photo showed that the levee walk was completely blocked by the VIP tent in what Canady called “a brazen violation of the intent of the Helena Levee Walk funded by the Arkansas Department of Transportation's Enhancement Program.”
Canady received a memo response from the AHTD, which stated in essence, “Failure to operate the project in accordance with federal-aid may result in the sponsor's repayment of federal funds and the possible withholding of future federal aid.”
“I think this proves the seriousness of my complaint,” stated Canady. “People with disabilities rights were violated.”
Canady requested a written response by Nov. 30.
City council members Joe St. Columbia and Jay Hollowell were the only city officials that responded to Canady's request.
St. Columbia reported that Willis told the council at the November session that he had personally sent a letter to Canady. As of Dec. 9, St. Columbia told the mayor that Canady had not received any response from the mayor.
“This letter has been bouncing around since Oct. 17,” stated St. Columbia in his correspondence with Willis. “This could end up with the Highway Department requesting the city to refund the federal grant money spent on the building of the handicap project in the levee walk and affect future federal grant requests for Helena-West Helena. We are never too busy to ignore the people we serve and protect as elected officials.”
Canady sent a second letter to the mayor on Dec. 9. In that letter, Canady stated, “The rights of people with disabilities are very important to me personally and all people with disabilities I represent as an advocate.
“I know you are busy with all the problems going on in our community but I do feel we should have a requirement in place to protect the city from complaints by other people with disabilities that may not be as patient as I have tried to be,” she continued.
Willis supplied St. Columbia with a copy of the response he reportedly sent to Canady. The letter is dated Nov. 26 and signed by Willis. In that letter, Willis stated, “The issue of non-compliance with ADA guidelines was discussed at the city council meeting in October.
Page 2 of 2 - “Please be assured that we will notify each festival entity that when they present their plan to the city council for permission to hold an event, they must include their procedure for complying with these guidelines. If they are not in compliance, the council will not grant approval of their permit. We will also ask that should they have questions regarding adequate compliance, they contact you.”
Canady stated that she never saw the letter until St. Columbia e-mailed her a copy.
In her first letter, Canady requested being included in the planning of future events to make sure provisions are made to ensure these problems do not occur again.