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Sparks businesses shape up to serve disabled
by Jessica Garcia
Nov 14, 2008 | 1259 views | 1 1 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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<a href=>Tribune/Debra Reid</a> - Wider aisles and lower shelves provide easier access for Laura Casson as she shops for her pets at the Discount Pet Store in Sparks.
Not too long ago, Laura Sheldon-Casson couldn’t fit into the aisles of the Discount Pet Food and Supplies store on Prater Way with her wheelchair. The shop’s shelves were too high for her to reach some of the products she needed for her cat and two dogs. In fact, the only place in the store she could access was the front counter, and even that was too high.

So she took action and worked with the store owner, Travis Wong, to get the interior remodeled. Now, Sheldon-Casson can roam anywhere and pick up almost anything she wants. If she needs help lifting a bag of dog food, Discount’s staff happily retrieves it for her.

Sparks businesses are learning the importance of serving the community’s disabled by falling into compliance with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), thanks, in part, to Sheldon-Casson, the chair of the Sparks Advisory Committee for the Disabled.

Sheldon-Casson praises Wong, who grew up understanding the challenges of people who face physical restrictions because his own grandparents were wheelchair-bound.

But the changes he made in his remodeling of the store wasn’t just about helping the disabled. Most of his customers are women, who are generally shorter, as well as some people with temporary injuries who cannot lift bags of dog food or other heavy items.

Plus, Wong said, it’s more aesthetically pleasing.

“I like the look of it, too,” he said. “This used to be an old video store and the workers stepped up (for higher counters) and looked down on the customers.”

Now he remains at eye level with his customers.

Wong also owns Scraps Dog Company stores on Mae Anne Avenue and S. Virginia Street in Reno. He said he’s in the process of helping both locations comply with the ADA.

While he works retroactively to make sure his stores are up to code, Scheels All-Sports, the anchor store for the Legends at Sparks Marina project, had to make sure it was in compliance several weeks before it opened on Sept. 27.

Jason Loney, vice president of store development, said the Scheels staff received tips from the Sparks committee to make it more accessible to the disabled than what it legally has to be, such as adding handgrabs in the fitting rooms and checking tension on automatic doors.

“We had a series of ADA compliance meetings to make sure everything we could offer was up to code,” Loney said. “The restrooms mostly were good; one or two doors with the release tension closed too quickly. They checked out the passenger elevators. ... We would have been in compliance when we opened, but the tips made it so we could make it even more convenient.”

A two-hour inspection of Scheels satisfied Sheldon-Casson and the other committee members.

“We were very impressed,” she said. “Never in the history of Scheels, they said, has any state had any committee go into their stores to check for accessibility for the minor things (until they came to Sparks).”

The ADA, a federal mandate that went into effect in January 1992, prohibits the exclusion of people with disabilities from participating in routine daily activities. It was applied to small businesses and provided specific requirements for employers to follow. The act is less stringent on buildings built in 1993 because such buildings may be less capable of handling improvements to accommodate the disabled.

However, some universal changes that a business can make include changing a round doorknob to a lever handle, creating aisles no less than 3 feet wide with more space at the corners and providing counter spaces no higher than 34 inches for pharmacies or food service.

Wong said improvements to his Prater Way store’s restroom facilities, for example, would require considerable changes to walls in the back of the store. The shop that was once two buildings was converted into one with the demolition of a wall and restrooms weren’t necessarily meant to be an amenity, Wong said.

The Sparks Advisory Committee for the Disabled, a nine-member group appointed by the Sparks City Council, randomly go to stores all over town when they hear of complaints about features that hinder physical access. Sheldon-Casson and her husband, Jim, work as “mystery shoppers” for inspections.

“We always check the bathroom sleeves on pipes underneath the sinks so that the disabled don’t burn their legs (when using warm water),” Sheldon-Casson said.

She did just that for the Save Mart store on Prater. Along with that, a few fixes like making some visible decals on the supermarket’s checkstands helped garner a recent exemplary business award from the city of Sparks.

Store manager John Burgess said it was a nice gesture, though unexpected.

“For me, it was just the fact that we’re willing to accommodate (the disabled) and (Sheldon-Casson) had valid points,” Burgess said.

Burgess said the pipes in Save Mart’s restrooms were covered to prevent people in wheelchairs from banging and cutting their knees.

Customer service is also a priority for the blind in need of assistance while shopping, he said.

“We can have somebody who’s sight-impaired to have a courtesy clerk shop with them or somebody who’s available to reach items off the shelf for people in wheelchairs,” Burgess said.

Simple adjustments make a tremendous difference for one person.

Casson said he never noticed how difficult it is for the disabled until he and his wife, who used to be able-bodied but now relies on a wheelchair when she’s out of the house, joined the Sparks committee.

“People don’t realize how hard it is (for the disabled),” Casson said.
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November 16, 2008
it's nice to see the committee is finally doing something besides gripe
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