DMV sites a challenge to the disabled

Study finds problems at many of its 100-plus driver's license and license plate locations.

Staff writerJanuary 31, 2010 

— Across North Carolina, many state license plate agencies and driver's license offices are not fully accessible to disabled people.

A new study by the Division of Motor Vehicles found widespread problems: lack of handicapped parking, ramps and curb cuts; bathroom and water fountains not adapted for wheelchairs; and service counters that are too high.

"We have been hearing that DMV offices have problems related to accessibility," said Vicki Smith, executive director of the Disability Rights North Carolina, a nonprofit advocate for the disabled. "All you have to do is go into a license plate agency and you can see the challenges."

The DMV is one of the busiest government agencies, with millions of North Carolinians visiting more than 100 offices across the state to get their licenses renewed. The public uses both state drivers' license offices and privately run license tag agencies that operate under state contracts.

Both the state-owned buildings and privately run facilities must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which forbids discrimination against the disabled.

Last year the state Department of Transportation began the first statewide survey of the accessibility of its buildings in 18 years.

The report found problems in 60 of its driver's license offices and in 39 of its license tag agencies.

"Some of them need minor work, and some are more extensive and some don't need more work at all," said Philip Bickham, director of DOT's office of civil rights.

At the registration tag agency in Lillington, for example, there is no handicapped parking, no signs, no ramp, no handrails and no curb cut.

At driver's license offices in Charlotte, there are such problems as no van-accessible handicapped parking signs, no toilet grab bars, doors with knobs and toilets that were too low.

At the driver's license office in Gastonia, there were no handicapped van spaces, no handrails on the ramp, inadequate knee space at the fountain and other problems.

In the Graham and Hendersonville agencies, there was no handicapped parking. In the Oxford driver's license office the toilets were too low.

DOT is now doing an assessment of what it would cost to bring the facilities into compliance. DOT officials plan to meet with advocacy groups to ask for their advice in solving the problems.

Bickham said DOT hopes to develop a plan during the first three months of the year.

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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