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Disabled veterans stumble at boat harbor

The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The act gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to those on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age and religion.

It guarantees equal opportunity for all with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA is divided into five titles, or sections, that relate to different areas of public life.

In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act was signed into law and became effective Jan. 1, 2009. It made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability.”

The changes in the amendments apply to all titles of the act, including 1) (employment practices of private employers with 15 or more employees, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor unions, agents of the employer and joint management labor committees); 2) (programs and activities of state and local government entities); and 3) (private entities that are considered places of public accommodation). Of course all of the above include protections for disabled veterans.

Those acts seem pretty comprehensive. But I have to wonder if the Lake Mead boat harbor perhaps has a legal exception. Recently, I had a business meeting at the harbor with an associate. I don’t own or rent a boat, but the person I had to see wanted to meet there. The harbor has a restaurant and a gift shop, open to all, be they boaters or not. Disabled veterans, and all disabled, might want to think twice before visiting.

I approached the security gate, where an employee collects a federal fee to enter the area. I informed the guard that I was a veteran and asked if there were discounts available. He asked to see my veterans’ identification and advised me there would be no charge. I presented my Veterans Affairs card and he signed me up.

He gave me a military pass with the heading America the Beautiful that entitles me to enter the national parks and federal recreational lands at no cost. That’s good news for veterans who want to use the local facilities, especially if they are able-bodied. But once I drove to the Boulder Beach sections, things changed. The boat harbor in particular (as well as all the shoreline areas) does feature tons of parking. But it’s all dirt, rocks and gravel. Anyone with mobility problems, limping, use of canes, crutches, walkers or wheelchairs, will be at a distinct disadvantage. (I am a disabled veteran. I experienced the problem.)

In addition, the parking area is at least a couple of football fields away from the boat house. If one makes it to the start of the pier, that’s another hike. And the pier has no sides to it. Using any type of device that might make one lose their balance could see them topple into the water.

As I’ve noted, the National Park System, part of the federal government, may have a legal exemption to ADA legislation. I’ll send them this column to inquire and ask them to respond.

But exception or not, as a disabled veteran I am cautioning my brothers in arms, as well as civilian individuals, before they enter the Lake Mead recreation area along the shore. The free military entrance pass is tempting. But literally, watch your step.

Chuck N. Baker is an award-winning journalist and a Vietnam War Purple Heart veteran. He can be heard at 8:30 a.m. each Sunday on KKVV-AM hosting “That’s America to Me” and occasionally on KUNV-FM hosting “America’s Veterans, Today and Tomorrow.”

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