Disability group sues restaurant on woman's behalf

Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Disability Law Center has filed a lawsuit against an Anchorage area restaurant on a woman's behalf to mark the 12th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The nonprofit advocacy group contends Turnagain House is violating Kristie Drury's civil rights by failing to build a permanent ramp. The case was filed in U.S. District Court.

The restaurant, south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway, is known for fine views of Turnagain Arm. The law center has been pressuring it since 1995 to provide better access for disabled customers.

''In my opinion they are totally out of compliance,'' said Janel Wright, legal director of the law center.

Turnagain House owner Philip G. Richter said he provides a portable ramp and welcomes customers in wheelchairs. None have complained directly to him, he said, though he said he has heard from the law center a few times over the years.

''In 16 years, I've never had a problem with a customer, a legitimate customer,'' Richter told the Anchorage Daily News. He hasn't built a permanent ramp or installed handicapped parking signs because there's no need, he said.

Customers in wheelchairs can easily get from a regular parking spot to the front door, where his restaurant staff will see them and inquire if they need help getting in, he said. Someone in a lightweight wheelchair can be helped up the single step into the bar entrance, he said, though heavier wheelchairs require the wooden ramp.

But Drury, 24, said she should be able to wheel herself in. ''It makes me feel powerless that I am no longer in control of the situation,'' she said.

Wright said the portable ramp appears unsafe, unstable and too steep. She said the Americans with Disabilities Act requires permanent ramps unless building one would be too expensive. A builder estimated it would cost less than $1,500 to build a permanent ramp at Turnagain House, she said.

Drury was born with spina bifida, which means her spinal cord didn't fully develop. She works as a care coordinator for Access Alaska, which helps people with disabilities live independently.

The Disability Law Center has sent letters to more than 300 Alaska businesses and organizations seeking ramps or other access fixes, and most have complied, Wright said. The center has sued 20 who didn't, counting Turnagain House. Nineteen have since built ramps and added handicapped parking signs, she said.

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