Downtown landmark reopens with wheelchair lift – a win for campaigners


After the inauguration, the neighborhood bibliophiles flocked, eager to take a look after a year and a half of waiting.

NEW ORLEANS — The Nix Library on South Carrollton Avenue is open again and, for the first time in its 92-year history, anyone can come in and browse.

On Thursday afternoon, Mayor Latoya Cantrell and New Orleans Public Library leaders held a ribbon cutting at the library to celebrate the completion of $591,000 in renovations. The goal was to make the historic building ADA compliant. There is now a wheelchair lift and larger bathrooms.

The library closed in early 2021 when renovations began. The project was expected to last a few months, but the contractors faced a number of setbacks, including the discovery of contaminated soil under the building and a roof leak. After the inauguration, the neighborhood bibliophiles flocked, eager to take a look after a year and a half of waiting.

Some, like Claudia Garofalo, have been waiting much longer.

She lives a few blocks from the library and went there often. Then, more than five years ago, she became paralyzed. After that, like other wheelchair users in the Carrollton area, she no longer had access to her neighborhood library.

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act outlines requirements for wheelchair access to public areas. It makes some exceptions for historic buildings, but they are still required to accommodate people with disabilities to the “maximum extent possible”.

WWL-TV first caught up with Garofalo in 2017. The city was hosting a ribbon cutting to mark a small round of renovations at the Nix Library. Garofalo was sitting at the bottom of the entry stairs, holding a sign that read “$320,000 in repairs and upgrades and yet I can’t use my public library!!” She said then-mayor Mitch Landrieu told her the city was working on a solution. “I sure hope so,” she added.

Five years later, Garofalo returned to Nix’s library. She tested the new wheelchair lift, smiling and waving as it spun upwards.

Then, for the first time in years, she walked into Nix’s library. She turned around, noting details like a lower checkout counter and computer desks. She commented that the aisles were easy to maneuver.

“It’s very good,” Garofalo said at the end of the tour, beaming, “very exciting.”

WWL-TV also asked Melanie Bray, deputy legal director of Disability Rights Louisiana, to take a look. She walked between the shelves, noting the distance between them. She then peeked into the bathroom, commenting on the grab bars next to the toilet and the low sink. Besides a few small suggestions, like a second handle on the inside of the bathroom door, his first impression is that the city has done a good job of updating the space.

Back outside, Bray explained that wheelchair users are often left outside in New Orleans. Many buildings in the city are very old, she said, and not all have the space or structure to add ramps or elevators.

Garofalo added that overall, “New Orleans could do better to make the city accessible to people with disabilities.” She hopes that through her advocacy she will help “remove barriers” and ensure everyone has “equal access and fair treatment”.

There is a lot of work to do. But now, at least one historical monument has turned the page.

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