Issues parallel Columbia-Centralia dinner train controversy
COLUMBIA, 9/27/10 (Beat Byte) -- A Boone County restaurant owner who spends several thousand dollars improving an older structure is hit with expensive complaints about compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The historic dinner train proposed to run between Columbia and Centralia? Not exactly, but disputes over disability access -- and the PR nightmare they can create -- are closely related.
Acting on a complaint from a Centralia resident who uses a battery-powered wheelchair for mobility, the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) is reportedly insisting that Centralia-based JR's Diner spend nearly $6,000 on a ramp and electronic door opening system.
On the corner of Singleton and Allen Streets in various incarnations over the years, JR’s Diner seats 61 patrons. Owner Jodie Roberts recently spent several thousand dollars on upgrades ranging from newer tables to a new grill, steam table, and grease hood that alone cost $4,000.
John Hinten filed the MCHR "Complaint of Discrimination" earlier this year. Hinten claims that in December 2009 and January 2010, he was not able to access "respondent’s place of business" because it was "not disability accessible." In March, MCHR turned away a similar complaint from Hinten against the City of Centralia.
Hinten -- well-known in Centralia for disability advocacy -- turned up the heat on JR's Diner with some fighting words and what Roberts told the Centralia Fireside-Guard was a Facebook "Wall of Shame."
"The respondent has been notified numerous times," Hinten complained. "The respondent refuses to acknowledge his responsibility as a business owner."
Roberts said she had never met nor spoken with Hinten, which may indicate why he mis-identified her as a male (he/his) in the complaint. Though Hinten says he telephoned Roberts, "John Hinten has never been in here," she told Fireside-Guard reporter James Smith. "He had never talked to me personally."
Roberts also says she has never had previous disability-related complaints. You can open the JRs Diner door "with a finger," she explained. "We have a clear view of the sidewalk. If somebody in a wheelchair comes up, we open the door for them" -- or carry them in.
But ADA advocates and an ADA technical assistance manual say providing that kind of help steals dignity. "Is carrying an individual with a disability considered an acceptable method of achieving program access? Generally, it is not," the manual reportedly reads. "Carrying is contrary to the goal of providing accessible programs, which is to foster independence."
Since first receiving Hinten's complaint, Roberts told the Fireside-Guard she's been tied up with fluctuating demands. A ramp and electric door buzzer, for instance, have become a ramp and an electronic door, with a $6,000 price tag Roberts said she can ill afford.
"MCHR then told me to send them the installation estimates and my tax records for 2009," Roberts said. She also thinks the laws aren't being equally applied, an argument the Columbia-Centralia dinner train has also encountered. "The Chateau hairstyling place has a ramp, but they did not have to put in an electric door. Why do I?" Roberts asked.