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New ADA coordinator surveys state agencies to measure needs, spread awareness

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Do you know who the state Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator is?

That's the first question on a survey sent to more than 100 state agencies across West Virginia this month to better familiarize them with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The answer is Kim Nuckles, a lawyer from Benwood, who took the position June 11.

"I plan to build this program from scratch and start out fresh with a new perspective. This survey will help me formulate a plan so that I can prioritize what's most important to the state," Nuckles said last week.

She plans to implement a statewide program to assure compliance with the federal ADA. Results from the survey are required to be returned by Aug. 1. The data will be presented by Nuckles to the state Legislature during August interims.

"This is about opening the door for people with disabilities and making sure they are able to do everything we do," she said.

Nuckles decided the survey would be her first plan of action as ADA coordinator because of a lack of awareness among agencies, their employees and members of the public when it comes to state disability laws.

"There isn't enough awareness. I wanted to say, 'Here I am. I'm accessible. If you have any questions, let's consult.' A lot of times, people don't even know who to contact for help," she said.

Nuckles said her main focus is to serve as an effective liaison between state and federal agencies and the taxpayers.

"There are some roles that the ADA coordinator by code and statute really should not be doing -- it's my job to tell them where they need to go. My biggest role is to say, 'Let me help you,'" she said.

West Virginia has about 336,500 residents with disabilities -- that's nearly 19 percent of the population. Only about 28 percent of West Virginians with disabilities are employed, and the state has the lowest employment rate for individuals with hearing and mobility disabilities in the U.S., according to the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Statistics and Demographics.

"I make sure that the code and laws are being followed and that people in employment are not being discriminated against, and if a person with a disability needs some sort of accommodation, and it's reasonable, I want to take a look and see if we can make that happen," she said.

Nuckles hopes the survey will get agencies more familiar with ADA compliance codes before a problem arises instead of dealing with the consequences after the fact.

"I want to be proactive -- not reactive. People start a project not knowing they're not ADA compliant and it ends up costing more money to fix something that could've been done correctly in the first place," she said. "Sometimes it's a matter of an inch. A wide enough door for a wheelchair or the right size sidewalk can mean a lot to a person with a disability, and that means a lot to me too."

Nuckles' next plan is to revamp the state's ADA website in a continued attempt to spread awareness.

"The ADA is constantly changing. In 2010, the ADA accessibility guidelines were completely revamped. We've always had an amazing website, but I want to update it," she said. "It's going to be easy to use for anyone who is looking for accommodations."

For information, visit www.ada.wv.gov.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at Mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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