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Commission on Disability crafts language for STM release of community accessibility survey

by | Oct 31, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Commission on Disability at its hybrid meeting Monday night added new language to its draft survey on the needs of people with disabilities in Hopkinton.

The survey will be distributed at the Nov. 13 Special Town Meeting and at other public buildings in town. In addition to printed copies, the survey will be accessible by email and a QR code. People will be able to respond for a couple of weeks.

Members noted one accessibility improvement at Town Hall that occurred since the commission’s last meeting on Oct. 2. The ramp at the rear entrance now has lighting.

“It was dangerous for everybody but particularly for wheelchair users and people with mobility issues,” said chair Holly Morand.

New member Praveen Hariharan added that lighting also should be improved at the front of Town Hall.

The commission hopes to learn more about accessibility concerns like this when it releases its community survey. While its focus is on the needs of people with disabilities, everyone is encouraged to fill it out to help the committee prioritize concerns. Additional language was added to the survey during the meeting to make it more comprehensive.

Said Morand: “The idea is that if you live here, work here or visit here, it’s all relevant.”

Transportation for people with disabilities is one concern Hariharan mentioned that was included in the survey. He also addressed fall prevention for older people to prevent trips to the emergency room.

Morand also said the survey should seek information about the needs of people with neurodiverse conditions, including autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, because they can be affected by lighting and sound.

Dale Danahy, the mother of commission vice chair Alex Danahy, brought up several areas she hoped the survey would target. She suggested that a space be added so that people who experience problems walking on uneven or broken sidewalks can identify the areas. Alex Danahy agreed, saying that each question should have a space for comments to provide context.

“I can attest to a lot of the new stuff that’s been done in town is not accessible,” Dale Danahy said. “There’s no excuse for that. There’s a lot of new projects going on, and they don’t meet accessibility [standards]. It’s pathetic and it’s sad.”

Not having adequate accessible parking spaces is another issue, particularly spaces that are large enough for vans. They also need to be placed near curb cuts. Street lighting also was something that members said could be improved.

Member Michael DiMascio added that the survey should seek information about accessibility issues at playgrounds and fields. Alex Danahy added that he has been working with Trails Committee chair Peter LaGoy in pointing out instances where trails are inaccessible for those who use wheelchairs or mobility devices. For example, if a trail’s surface is made from bark mulch or grass, people with mobility issues will have challenges accessing it.

Some schools and buildings in town pose accessibility challenges that should be identified, he added, such as push buttons for door access.

“I still roll my eyes every time I try to use one push button to get in to Town Hall,” said Danahy, “and the other one is blocked by a table.”

Concerns like these may not be readily apparent to people without disabilities, and the survey can prompt people to think more inclusively.

Some bathrooms are tight to navigate in schools and also at Town Hall, particularly for people who use wheelchairs. Member Nancy Cavanaugh, who also serves as the School Committee chair, suggested signage alerting visitors to where the accessible compliant bathrooms are in the buildings.

Cavanaugh added that the student council representative on the School Committee could solicit feedback from high school students. She also volunteered to reach out to Hopkinton SEPAC for input.

An overarching question Hariharan proposed for the survey was “What would be the one thing that would make your disabled life easier?” He suggested access to healthcare and recreational opportunities as priorities.

Member Amy Ritterbusch, who also serves on the Select Board, suggested an option for people to leave email addresses so the commission could contact them for further information. She also said outreach to the Chamber of Commerce would be helpful because some businesses in existing buildings aren’t aware of accessibility being an issue.

A brief discussion ensued when Hariharan and DiMascio suggested changing the commission’s name to something stressing accessibility over disability “to make it more positive,” according to Hariharan. However, Town Meeting voted in May for the commission to specifically represent the concerns of people with disabilities, as other commissions on disabilities do throughout Massachusetts and the country.

1 Comment

  1. Molly Myers

    I am hopeful for impactful change from this group.
    Please do more research on erasing the word disability. It is my understanding that the disability community wants to be called disabled as they are in need of accommodations and to soften the language is another way to diminish their needs.
    Here are a couple of articles that may interest you. Compiling such research and making it available to the community would be very helpful. I would be happy to volunteer to make this happen.
    Thank you to everyone who signed up for the Disability Commission. Special thanks to Dale Danahy, who has been fighting for disability access & equality for years, and Alex being a phenomenal addition to this group. I am looking forward to meeting with the Disability Commission and helping our town become more educated and inclusive of the disabled community in Hopkinton.

    Molly Myers

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