LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A Cabot man’s visit to a Little Rock shopping center ended with disappointment after he says a couple of the stores informed him that there was no way he could enter the store in his wheelchair.
Scott Bullitt’s legs were paralyzed five years ago after he was shot while in the line of duty as a law enforcement officer in Louisiana.
Despite his disability, he doesn’t allow it to limit him.
“I love being outside,” Bullitt says. “Hunting has always been a hobby of mine.”
He says after being shot, he found out he would have to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life, which has been an adjustment.
“Pretty much everywhere I go now, the first question I ask ‘Can I get into the bathroom, can I get into the place we’re going?'” Bullitt says.
Those were the types of questions that surfaced on a recent shopping trip to Little Rock. He was in search of some home decor items. He ended up calling a couple of places in the Capital Park shopping complex, which sits just off Cantrell.
“I called, and they had exactly what I wanted. Well, I didn’t think to ask them ‘Can I get in your building?’ or anything like that,” Bullitt says.
When he showed up, all he saw were stairs. There was no wheelchair ramp in sight.
“And, they said ‘No, I’m sorry. We can bring something out to you,” Bullitt says.
“You go into a store to shop. So I really wouldn’t have even known what to bring out.”
KARK visited the complex as well and noticed all the stores and offices each sat atop a flight of stairs near their front entrances. We spoke with workers inside who told us that there are ramps in the back, but they do not connect with every store. So, at some stores, if a visitor is in a wheelchair, there is no way in.
“It was just, it’s kind of disheartening,” Bullitt says.
KARK learned that enforcing the American Disability Act regulations can be an uphill climb.
The city of Little Rock has an ADA coordinator, which only oversees complaints and violations with city property. New construction adheres to ADA regulations through the city planning commission, but older buildings are not really addressed unless formal complaints are submitted to a federal office like the Department of Justice in Washington.
“Unfortunately, it is still a battle,” Jennifer Goodwin says. “The ADA has been out for about 30 years now. It seems like most of these issues should have been corrected already.”
Goodwin is an attorney with Disability Rights Arkansas, an advocacy organization in Little Rock.
“We get accessibility complaints all the time,” Goodwin says.
In Arkansas, those complaints are not always filed with the feds where action can be taken.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, as of 2018, cases brought under the ADA have increased three-fold in recent years.
In the natural state between 2005 and 2017, an average of 17 cases were filed each year. California, New York and Florida lead the nation.
Goodwin says business owners and landlords can both be held responsible and hefty fines can be levied.
“It can be up to a $50,000 for a first offense,” Goodwin says.
According to the ADA, ramps or curb ramps are required in accessible routes where the surface level changes more than half-an-inch.
We reached out to the owner of the Capital Park shopping center on Cantrell, who has of Tuesday morning has not yet responded.
Meanwhile, Bullitt admits that he has not filed a formal complaint himself, but he simply wants to raise awareness and get everyone else up to speed.
“Maybe it will make a difference in the future, maybe it won’t,” Bullitt says. “I’m just hoping for someone else that it does.”