Westshore Plaza hit by disability discrimination complaint

05/14/09 Seán Kinane
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Today the Tampa/Hillsborough County Human Rights Council filed a disability discrimination complaint with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, against the owners of Tampa’s WestShore Plaza. The complaint is on behalf of three people with disabilities who are fed up with potholes in a WestShore crosswalk.

“I feel that they just don’t care.” Charles Morrow, who is wheelchair bound, feels that something should be done about the potholes in a crosswalk at WestShore Plaza. Morrow says he is “angry” and WestShore’s lack of response is “annoying” because he feels someone could fall and be injured.

“I do use public transportation to get around, as well as paratransit. I would like to say that it is difficult, I find it very difficult to cross in the area where the hole is because it could be damaging to my wheelchair.”

Morrow is one of three people with disabilities named in the complaint against WestShore Plaza and their owner / operator, Glimcher Realty Trust. The disability discrimination complaint was filed by Ahmed Bedier, president of the Tampa/Hillsborough County Human Rights Council, an organization that has been defending rights in the community for 34 years.

“In 2009 it’s unacceptable for people who conduct business in America or in Florida to neglect the accessibility to people with disabilities. Title II of the (Americans with) Disabilities Act guarantees the right of persons with disabilities to have public access, equal access as anyone else. ... It’s unacceptable and unconscionable for the owners of WestShore Plaza to knowingly put peoples’ lives in dangers, especially those that are vulnerable, the disabled.”

Bedier is also the host of the WMNF program True Talk. A Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit, or HART, bus transfer center is located at WestShore Plaza. Therefore many busses and passengers pass through every hour. Gloria Mills is also mentioned in the complaint, as is her husband Dan Hicks. She is legally blind and doesn’t own an automobile. Mills says she uses busses to be independent and to come to the mall on her own.

“But not when there’s signs I can’t see that say ‘beware of sidewalk.’ What good is that if I can’t see it. The last time I came here I almost tripped at the place where the holes are.”

Mills said she wrote “at least” one letter of complaint to the mall asking them to fix the holes, but they did not respond. The bookkeeper and tax professional says she should not have to live her life in fear “because of something that could be repaired.” Sliding her cane along the sidewalk, Mills walked a group of reporters toward a sign reading “CAUTION Uneven Surface Please Follow Crosswalk.”

Charles Morrow describes the hole -- several inches deep -- on the edge of that crosswalk he worries could damage his twenty-eight-hundred-dollar wheelchair: “It’s a deep hole and it’s getting deeper.”

Human Rights Council’s Ahmed Bedier says that the hole has been there too long, and it’s time that WestShore fixed it.

“The mall has known about this problem for at least over two years and has refused to do anything about it. Mrs. Mills has complained to them several times. And even the local bus authority, HART, has even filed some sort of lawsuit to get it fixed. Our investigation also determined this hole was created as a result of some sort of sewage repair that was done about three years ago. And since then, just that specific location, the ground sunk in and there’s a large diameter of a hole.”

Jay Botsch, general manager at WestShore Plaza, says a permanent repair of the pothole will come after the litigation with HART is concluded. But they expect a temporary fix will occur in less than a week.

“Even though we are in litigation right now, we actually took steps a few weeks ago to not continue with this, and go after a temporary patch. It’s completely unrelated to the letters of the complaint that was waged today, but we’re hoping to have that fixed, probably in the next four or five days. Temporary repair, but it needs to be done.”

Bedier says the people with disabilities named in the complaint “couldn’t wait any longer” and he is calling on the Department of Justice to force the mall to make the repairs.

“The mall received some sort of variance some years back ... as an accommodation allow for this bus transfer station to be housed here."

In addition to asking that the hole be repaired, the disability discrimination complaint asks that WestShore give a written apology and participate in ADA compliance and sensitivity training.

text of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, including changes made by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008

Tampa/Hillsborough County Human Rights Council

WestShore Plaza

Times: Westshore ready to settle with HART

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