How does Sun City Center fare for disabled Americans?

Published on: December 12, 2012


SUN CITY CENTER – How does this community of retirees over the age of 50 years rate on accessibility for the disabled?

The question was the crux of discussions this week when Hillsborough County’s ADA coordinator and a local advocate for the disabled met with Community Association directors, looking at residential and commercial sections from the perspectives of the wheelchair bound, the deaf, the sightless.

The answer that emerged might be couched as not badly, but certainly with room for improvement.
Sandra Sroka, the county’s go-to person on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and herself confined to a mechanized chair, responded to questions from a half-dozen CA directors Monday morning as Bill Schnell, a resident and advocate, pointed to several locations where accessibility for the disabled is difficult or denied.

Sroka, Schnell and the assembled directors agreed that newer parts of the community and recent construction projects have built in accessibility for the physically impaired with automatically opening doors and large rest rooms accommodating wheel chairs and pool lifts and especially marked parking spaces adequate for entering or exiting vehicles with mechanical or other assistance.

On the other hand, Schnell noted that older public sites in the community and some transportation facilities are markedly inaccessible. The Rollins Theater on the central campus, for example, has no arrangements that allow the disabled to get on stage, he said. And, while all public transportation buses in the county are equipped to accommodate those with physical disabilities, Schnell added that within the community the vehicles that transport residents on entertainment trips or longer travel are closed to the disabled because they lack the necessary equipment.

Perhaps the most glaring example of non–accessibility is the Sun City Center Post Office, in part because its services and functions are so important in the lives of most residents, Schnell said. This postal hub, through which mail to and from several surrounding communities passes daily, does not have automatically opening doors making access to the lobby, postal lock boxes or sales windows difficult for anyone requiring walking assistance. And for the wheelchair-bound, gaining access from parked vehicles can be threatening because it can require the disabled in a chair to navigate around vehicles moving in and out of spaces in order to reach a single ramp to the sidewalk, he added.

The same issues were raised by Mrs. John Manning who cares for her 73-year-old husband diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in childhood and confined to a wheelchair most of his life. John Manning is most familiar with the drawbacks and hazards confronting a disabled person in Sun City Center, she said.

The Mannings relocated to the community in 1990 and he learned how to get around SCC in his mechanized chair; learned what he could access and where access would be impossible unless someone else stepped up to help, she indicated. The couple would have liked to take day trips or make longer journeys, either as part of a SCC travel club or with others on SCC Chamber of Commerce trips, but was unable to do so because the transportation vehicles cannot accommodate his wheelchair, Mrs. Manning said. The situation is exacerbated because she cannot drive a car, only a golf cart, she added.

Despite his disease, John Manning earned a degree from the University of Tennessee and both taught in a school system and tutored students, his wife said. Long interested in music, he also has composed songs, devised games and maintained email correspondence with the help of the computer, she added. Yet, Mrs. Manning said, despite her husband’s interest in entertainment, he could not access the Rollins Theater stage.

In December, 2011, John Manning encountered what many wheelchair-bound individuals determined to have a measure of independence dread most – he was struck by a car on the street near their SCC home. He sustained broken bones in one leg, one arm and head trauma, his wife said, adding that in the view of the MD, pneumonia was a particular concern while he was hospitalized.

Manning recovered to a level that allowed him to return home, but with another casualty of the accident. His mechanized chair for which he had designed a desk-like attachment that held his computer, was destroyed on the street. He has a new chair but it lacks the computer rest arrangement and therefore he no longer can use this tool that was both his portal on the world and a vehicle for his creativity, his wife said.

Following the Monday meeting, Ed Barnes, SCC Community Association president, said he would look into requirements for ADA accommodations that might make use of transportation facilities in the community easier for disabled persons. He also said the CA would be maintaining connections with Sroka’s office and would plan to participate in periodic ADA seminars held in the Tampa area.

The Observer contacted the communications section of the U.S. Postal Service in Washington, D.C., with questions related to making the SCC Post Office more accommodating to those in mechanized chairs or otherwise needing help to use postal services. No answers were available before deadline.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson