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Former Police Officer Files Lawsuits over Hundreds of ADA Violations

March 15, 2013

Story by Shea Allen

Online article includes video without captions (2:00 minutes).

A former police officer who has spent the past decade of his life learning to navigate life in a wheelchair is vowing to spend the next decade of his life fighting to make sure Huntsville [Alabama] is accessible to people with disabilities.

Years ago, retired police officer James Mason got a surprising diagnosis. It has since forced him to learn how to live his life from a new perspective; a wheelchair. But when he moved to the Rocket City, Mason says he was floored at what he found.

"I went downtown and I was amazed at just how inaccessible everything was," explains Mason.

For the first time in his life, Mason found himself feeling rather helpless. He couldn't get up curbs or in doors. But his complaints to local leaders and business owners weren't warmly received.

"If you can do it, if you can go there and I cant then that's not fair," says Mason.

So the former officer went to work. Mason hired an attorney and has since filed 17 lawsuits for violations to Federal law under the Americans for Disabilities Act.

His complaints detail violations that most would likely never notice. Included are allegations of inadequate handicap parking, curb cuts and ramps. Also cited are less obvious violations like the height of drinking fountains, ticket windows and soap dispensers. Mason's lawsuits name restaurants, hotels, malls, shopping plazas, stadiums and even both the City of Huntsville and the Madison County Commission.

"If there were businesses here that said only wheelchairs allowed, that only disabled people are allowed in this business, there would be lots of crying hearts," jokes Mason.

He says the process certainly hasn't helped his popularity. But Mason is steadfast in his mission and isn't afraid to step on some toes in order to ensure the rights of the disabled are protected.

"The law was passed in 1990. It's 2013. Its a shame that anyone should have to sue to get something done," says Mason.

Along with the disdain of the many businesses that have forced to tow the line and step up to code, Mason says he also has many skeptical of his motives. But Mason insists he hasn't collected a dime.

"That's not what I'm looking for. I don't need money or a parade or even a handshake. All I'm asking for is compliance with the law and we've not ever asked for any money," Mason insists.

In the end, although determined to make a change, Mason says it really shouldn't have to come to this.

"Huntsville should be a shining star as the most accessible city in the state of Alabama. Someone shouldn't have to come along and hire an attorney and fight them till they're blue in the face. It shouldn't happen that way," says Mason.

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