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Commission on Disability extends community survey period, plans January forum

by | Nov 29, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Commission on Disability at its meeting Monday night voted 5-0 to extend the deadline for completion of the community survey on accessibility until Dec. 15 due to a low response rate.

Chair Holly Morand noted that there were 23 responses to the survey, which was distributed at the Nov. 13 Special Town Meeting and at public buildings in town. Twenty responses were from Hopkinton residents, while three were from people who work in town.

The survey can be accessed via this link: corexms6szwjv5fh9jj6.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_e2KAtXyvx3lz5f8. Any issues can be addressed to Morand at CODChair@hopkintonma.gov.

Member Praveen Hariharan suggested tweaking some of the questions to gain more accurate responses. For example, 15% of respondents said they had a disability, while 55% said they were “a friend, family member or caregiver of a person with a disability.” He said he believed some of the responses were misleading because a caregiver could be filling out a survey on behalf of a person with a disability but responding to questions based on their own health experiences.

It should be noted that a respondent could select multiple categories as to circumstances that apply to them, such as being a person with a disability, a resident of Hopkinton, and/or an employee or volunteer of an organization that serves people with disabilities.

Member Amy Ritterbusch suggested that a link to the survey be included on the town website. Later in the meeting, members talked about potentially having an open tab for the survey on the town website so people could report accessibility issues and other information on a rolling basis.

Members also spoke of reaching out to Hopkinton SEPAC (Special Education Parents Advisory Council) and the School Department regarding survey distribution.

Initial results showed that a majority of respondents visit a town building on a weekly basis. Some of the accessibility challenges they have encountered include plant overgrowth and poles blocking the sidewalks, ramps that are too steep and crosswalks that have been blocked by cars since the installation of the new bike lane on Main Street.

Ritterbusch pointed out that there are a few walk lights that are not working at crosswalks, particularly the one in front of Town Hall. This makes crossing the street more difficult for people with disabilities and pedestrians.

Hariharan said that there should be a line in the survey questioning whether people are receiving Medicare and MassHealth insurance benefits. This was not included in the updated version. Morand noted that an overarching problem that has been brought to her attention is the lack of transportation to pick up prescriptions.

January forum planned, guest speakers discussed

The commission discussed its upcoming public forum in January that will introduce the commission to the community, describe its mission and hear people’s concerns. Members will reach out to representatives from the Fire Department, Hopkinton SEPAC, the School Department’s director of student services and MassHealth, among others, to request speakers.

Morand noted that member Michael DiMascio, who was not in attendance, volunteered to speak at the next meeting on Dec. 15. His topic will be ADA building regulations related to both new construction projects and current buildings.

Ritterbusch volunteered to discuss ADA website accessibility at a future meeting. Member Nancy Drawe noted that she spoke with state Rep. James Arena-DeRosa, and he is interested in speaking before the commission about accessibility issues. Hariharan suggested that a colleague of his speak on “prosthetics.”

Morand also discussed formulating a guidebook to educate people about the proper terminology to use when discussing people with disabilities and the issues they face. Some terms currently used are outdated and can be offensive, she explained. Person-first language is encouraged.

Vice chair Alex Danahy noted that some people with disabilities have personal preferences that should be respected.

Community requests prompt discussion about help for visually impaired residents

Morand told commission members that a person with low vision reached out to her to make her aware of the challenges that this population faces on the stairs in public buildings. Adding yellow lines to stairs with tape could make it easier for this population to see them. Members said they would look into the issue to determine the process for requesting such a modification.

Another person told Morand about a free service that the town could request. Volunteers are available around the clock to read to people with visual impairments. She said the service is used by 100 Massachusetts communities.

Said Morand: “There’s a whole bunch of populations who would benefit from this service, including people with learning disabilities.”

The commission voted 5-0 in favor of bringing the recommendation of the reading service to the Select Board.