Ijams seeks TVA permit for handicap boat launch

After putting in a handicap accessible boat launch, Ijams had to pull it out of the water. The dock makes it easier and safer for people with disabilities to get into a kayak or canoe. 8-7-14

(WBIR-Knoxville) After installing a universally accessible boat launch designed for people with disabilities, Ijams Nature Center said it had to pull out the system due to TVA requirements.

Paul James, Executive Director, said Ijams Nature Center is trying to improve access to the water for people of all ages and abilities.

"We know there's a growing interest, yes. We work with our recreational partner, River Sports Outfitters here in Knoxville. And they're also gaining, learning of a growing demand for people of disabilities that want to get out and go on the water," said James.

He said Ijams chose a design by EZ Dock because it was affordable and has bolt-on features.

"The EZ Launch allows anyone, really, if they don't have much confidence to get in and out of a canoe or kayak, to get in on the dry dock and then slide in," said James.

TVA said since it owns the shoreline, Ijams needed proper permits before installing the launch on its waterway.

"We've had policies in place since the 1930s, Section 26A" said Travis Brickey, with TVA's Public Relations Department. "It's really a safety issue. Where they had put it is in a commercial loading zone. There's a nearby dock for unloading and loading so there are barges coming and going from there."

TVA said many of its fishing piers, campsites, and boat docks are universally accessible and in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, but exact numbers were not available.

"Yea, I'm sure they're wide enough. I'm sure they've got the guards, the catches at the edge, I'm certain they're long enough and they've got the ramps getting down to them," said Corbin Payne, with Disabilities Resource Center. "But it's a different matter entirely when you're talking about having a ramp set up so that someone who uses a wheelchair can get right into a kayak and launch."

Payne said carrying a six-foot kayak and walking down the bank is hard enough, but for people with disabilities, it can be nearly impossible without help.

"Accessibility is more than how tall or wide or short something is," said Payne. "Ijams making this effort to include the entire community is incredibly commendable."

Payne, along with Thomas Kahler, an adaptive athlete who works with East Tennessee's Area on Aging and Disability, said the technology is not common on local waterways.

"I've never heard of something like this. Not come across it in my research and working with other people, so they're really stepping out and stepping up for our community," said Payne.

"I'm perfectly capable of doing almost anything by myself but sometimes technology, meaning an accessible pier, would help me facilitate access," said Kahler, who has been in a wheelchair for nearly 25 years. "I think it will set a precedent, which is a good thing."

While Ijams works on the application process for the required TVA permits, Kahler said he hopes an agreement can be hashed out soon.

"You want to be independent in what you do. So you really don't want someone picking you up. They don't want to be picking you up, I don't want them to assume any liability for anything that might happen," said Kahler. ""So any kind of event that gives us an opportunity to participate, along with, alongside, ablebody folks is always welcome."

James said he was not sure on a tentative timeframe, but said Ijams will submit the application within the next several weeks.

"There's nothing worse than actually putting a dock here and then finding that people are being frustrated that they can't use it," said James.


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