New Mexico

ONLY ON ABC-7: Handicapped woman accuses City of Las Cruces of ADA violations

ONLY ON ABC7 Handicapped woman says...

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - Shelly Nichols-Shaw says she likes to think of herself as not handicapped, but handi-capable.

"How can we make people capable, rather than disabling them even more than they already are?" Nichols-Shaw asked.

Still, the Las Cruces resident experiences multiple obstacles in her everyday life. She told ABC-7 she was struck head-on by a drunk driver in Hatch in February 1999. The accident crushed her foot and seriously injured her leg.

"Because of that, I have mobility issues," Nichols-Shaw said.

She pointed out multiple violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 around the city of Las Cruces, including five light poles in the middle of the sidewalk across from City Hall on Main Street.

Issue #1 - Light poles in street

"It's very dangerous," Nichols-Shaw said. "When you veer into the street, you stand the chance of having your wheel chair tipped over, or just for me, tripping."

"That's the city's fault; we take full responsibility for that," admitted Mayor Ken Miyagishima. "We need to make sure that it's accessible. What you've pointed out to us is really unacceptable."

ABC-7 also mentioned the problem to Assistant City Manager David Dollahon.

"Each situation is unique and needs to be reported to us and evaluated," Dollahon said. "We have a great many needs that we need to prioritize."

Dollahon said the city has $200 million dollars worth of roadway construction need. Depending on the city's ability to acquire right-of-way, Dollahon said there are a few options.

"We could take down the streetlight, we could accommodate a streetlight in a different location, we could also put the stoplight behind the streetlight."

Issue #2 - Improper handicap signage in City Hall parking lot

Nichols-Shaw pointed out another pressing violation: The City's van-accessible handicap signs do not have the words "No Parking" painted on the pakring space or "Van Accessible" on the placard. According to New Mexico's accessible parking checklist, that's a violation of NMSA 1978, Section 66-1-4.1(B).

"I would like the city to adhere to the laws and expect their own officials to adhere to the laws as they would expect us to do," Nichols-Shaw said. 

"Thanks for bringing that to our attention," Dollahon said. "We will evaluate it."

Issue #3 - Removal of sidewalk near her home

The handicapped Las Cruces resident's most personal frustration has to do with access in the street next to her home. The city has paved over the sidewalk across from her home (photo below). She said the customers from the shop have reversed into her vehicle multiple times.

"It's a detriment to my life everyday, because I never know, 'Is someone going to hit my car today? Is someone going to hit me when I get in my car?'

Dollahon said the City is only required have an accessible sidewalk on one side of the street. He said the City accommodated the needs of the barber shop across the street by paving over the sidewalk because their front parking had been lost in the 2014 construction of Main Street.

"The City worked with the barbershop on an agreement and we also worked with Ms. Nichols-Shaw on an agreement that she opted not to exercise," Dollahon said.

"The city expected me to move my car to the alleyway or down the street, rather than be able to have access to my handicap ramp that is just outside my own back door."

"It doesn't have to go to court"

Nichols-Shaw told ABC-7 she doesn't want to sue the City. She said she just wants city leaders to accommodate the needs of all residents.

"I never wanted to take legal action, because I don't want it to cost taxpayers money," Nichols-Shaw said. "I would rather have the city simply provide their cooperation and do what's right, show integrity, show transparency and then it doesn't have to go to court."

A former special ed teacher, Nichols-Shaw said her life's work after the accident turned to helping the disabled community in Doña Ana County.

"I've always firmly believed that people need to have access to different services," Nichols-Shaw said. "Since the ADA became law in my lifetime, it's always been at my heart."

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