In 1990 no elected official in state government gave so much as lip service to the application of State-adopted rules to accommodate the handicapped, at least not to the buildings in the Capitol Complex. Not even when the Federal American Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in July of 1990. That attitude finally propelled the State’s wheelchair zealot, Barbara Crozier, to assemble a few of her fellow state workers with disabilities to file suit in Federal Court against the State of Alabama and numerous State officials over conditions in the Alabama Statehouse. At the time, Barbara was employed by the State Attorney General, whose offices were in that building.
In the face of Crozier’s legal action, all these state officials (and their architects) suddenly became frightened and were overly conscientious about ADA regulations. In May of ‘92, as a result of frantic negotiations, a settlement agreement was reached which mandated substantial modifications to the Statehouse. In the eyes of many, including mine, Barbara Crozier was something to be avoided at all costs. That was the atmosphere in 1992 when the initial planning of the RSA Union commenced.
Apparently, the resentment directed toward Ms. Crozier as a result of the litigation, proved to be more than she could endure. Ergo, she left the Attorney General and the Statehouse to take a new position with the Department of Mental Health, which was currently quartered in an outlying, privately owned office complex. Everyone in State government heaved a sigh of relief. Now the Lowder real estate empire could feel the Crozier wrath and State government could relax. At that point, the real dimension of the disaster hit me–Mental Health was scheduled to take 2 ½ floors of the Union, and Crozier would move in as a tenant in a new building which would have no excuse not to fully comply with the new inscrutable ADA regulations.
In the face of this impending travesty, I was promptly dispatched to the Mental Health offices to interview and soothe the lady lest she turn her fury on PH&J and the RSA. Thus, late in 1992 I was seen running all over the Mental Health complex in Lowder’s Interstate Park, from building to building, chasing behind Crozier in her motorized wheelchair. She pointed out and demonstrated every deficiency, all of those in the book and some that were not. At one point she even flung open the door to the ladies’ restroom and shouted impatiently for me to come in, even while some of her co-workers were still in a stall.
When Barbara grabbed open a toilet stall door and motored in, I was sure she was going to demonstrate her technique to swing onto the john, or use a female urinal. Fortunately, I received only a vivid description, and managed to survive the incident with my dignity bruised but still intact. Subsequently, PH&J conducted lengthy planning sessions to insure that Crozier would enjoy every possible accommodation in the RSA Union. You may rest assured that the Mental Health floors there boasted handicapped features not included on typical floors.
But as fate would have it, Barbara Crozier never made it to the Union. Two years later, just before the scheduled move-in, she quit the Department of Mental Health and transferred to the Public Health Department. Public Health was scheduled to be the major tenant in the RSA Tower, our next building, and so we faced the problem all over again–only this time, because the Public Health Department was renting 12 floors, we had to worry about 24 public toilets, not just 4. Besides that, the Tower had been under construction for almost two years when we got the news of her latest transfer. You can read about our handicap tribulations in the RSA Tower here.
-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)