News Story: By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican – February 6, 2024 

Big wooden doors that don’t open automatically.

A lack of signage about nearby access ramps.

A shortage of family restrooms.

The physical barriers regularly faced by people with disabilities can create social barriers, too — including at the Roundhouse.

Small committee rooms with limited seating, poor lighting in bathrooms and staff tables occupying spaces designed for wheelchairs are among the many problems people with disabilities face as they navigate the building, advocates told Lt. Gov. Howie Morales.

“There’s a lot of little things that can be fixed,” Silver City Town Councilor Guadalupe Cano said as she and others gathered with Morales for a news conference on the issue Tuesday, designated as Disability Rights Awareness Day at the Capitol.

Advocates noted a number of seemingly small obstacles can create outsize problems — impeding people’s efforts to get into or through the Capitol to watch legislative hearings or connect with lawmakers.

“A lot more automatic doors, I think, would be very helpful,” said Ellen Pinnes of The Disability Coalition, a group of New Mexico organizations that advocates for the needs and interests of people with disabilities.

She and others pointed out the exterior doors to the Capitol can be opened automatically but doors to the committee rooms can’t. And seating for those in wheelchairs is often limited, they said.

Cano said sergeants-at-arms in the Senate have been accommodating people with disabilities by removing tables from wheelchair spaces in the public gallery but that doesn’t always happen in the House.

At least one space designed for a wheelchair had a table blocking it Tuesday afternoon during a House floor meeting.

Other problems, perhaps unseen to people who don’t live with disabilities: There are only two elevators, on the east and west sides, and they fill up fast during legislative sessions, leaving little room for wheelchairs; parking spots on the east side of the building reserved for people with disabilities are sometimes taken by staff members; something as simple as a box on the floor near a desk in a legislator’s cramped office can stop a constituent in a wheelchair from moving freely.

Legislative Council Service Director Raúl Burciaga, whose office oversees the Capitol, said much has been done to improve accessibility since a renovation project about 10 years ago. That includes upgrades to the Legislature’s website allowing people who are visually impaired and hard of hearing to access committee meetings online, he said.

“We still have a ways to go,” Burciaga said, adding his office expects to hire an expert on the federal Americans with Disabilities Act later this year to identify needs and improve access for everyone.

Morales said he will work with lawmakers in interim committees throughout the year to identify ways to help Burciaga’s staff make accessibility improvements, ideally before the next legislative session in January 2025.

“We have a beautiful Roundhouse … but in reality, we can make it better,” he said.