Making Courthouses Wheelchair Accessible

A Tallahassee jury recently found James "Roscoe" Brown guilty of a shocking murder. The case was also a test of just how accessible courtrooms are for the disabled.

One of the jurors in that case was confined to a wheelchair, and he's anxious for changes that will make it easier for the disabled to serve as jurors, witnesses and more.

Bill Parker navigated his electric wheelchair through narrow passages around tight corners and up ramps to get to the jury box and weigh the evidence against James Brown.

Dr. Bill Parker says, "I felt a part of the jury, of course, and that's one of the things you have to feel, part of the group, and being able to get into the jury box was a big part of that."

Just four of Leon County's courtrooms are handicap accessible. This trial was moved to courtroom 3-D so Parker could serve on the jury. Two new courtrooms scheduled to open in 2006 will have much better accommodations, and not just for disabled jurors.

Bill Wills, Leon County Deputy Court Administrator, says, "In the future, the witness box, the jury box and the judge's box will all be ADA compatible in the additional new courtrooms."

Dr. Bill Parker adds, "I know I left a couple of notches in the jury box trying to turn."

Parker says the courthouse's tight quarters are typical of older buildings. He says new courtrooms built according to ADA guidelines should make it easier for folks with all kinds of disabilities to do their duty.

Dr. Bill Parker says, "It's one way I can have full citizenship, be a part of society and contribute to society."

According to the deputy court administrator, there are no plans right now to further retrofit any of the old courtrooms. As for the renovations, they'll include two fully accessible courtrooms and five accessible hearing rooms too.