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Commission on Disability sets priorities, action plan

by | Mar 30, 2024 | Featured: News, News

The Commission on Disability at its meeting Thursday night strategized three priorities where it will focus its efforts based on the results of its January public forum.

Chair Holly Morand said accessibility issues on Main Street remail a top concern, especially since the installation of the Eversource transformers may be delayed by about two years.

Main Street sidewalks pose obstacles

The placement of telephone poles and other objects on the sidewalks make navigating them difficult for wheelchair users, people using mobility aids and parents with strollers, Morand explained. She called them a “safety hazard” that impacts businesses there.

“In the next two years, we’re going to kind of have an ongoing accessibility issue,” she added. “These are things that people without mobility issues don’t think about.”

Member Michael DiMascio, a registered fire protection engineer, said this should be a major priority. Because the work has yet to be completed on the Main Street Corridor Project, there is an opportunity to correct issues before they become permanent obstacles.

Morand said she would approach Town Manager Norman Khumalo regarding this issue and request a meeting with him as well as an appearance before the Select Board. DiMascio said he would join her in this effort because of his expertise in accessibility codes and see if a survey could be performed to point out Main Street’s potential hazards.

Lack of handrail at library remains issue

At several previous meetings, as well as in forum and survey feedback, people stressed the need for a handrail at the library’s ramp.

“In a lot of ways it’s difficult for anybody walking on the ramp, but particularly for people with mobility issues” said Morand. “It makes me wonder about how many people have had bad experiences.”

DiMascio said the Historic District Commission previously made an agreement with the library that a handrail not be installed, noting, “They were fairly adamant about the railings.”  He suggested curbs as an alternative.

DiMascio also explained that what many people consider to be a ramp at the library is technically a walkway because of its grade.

“To be perfectly honest, it doesn’t classify as a ramp,” he stressed. “It’s classified as a walkway because it’s a 1-in-20 slope. It has to be steeper than a 1-in-20 slope to be classified as a ramp.”

Member Nancy Cavanaugh, who also serves as the School Committee chair, expressed concerns over accessibility and whether the Historic District Commission previously addressed them. She suggested that the commission request the Historic District Commission to “revisit it.”

This issue also will be brought to Khumalo’s attention for guidance.

First responder training, database suggested

At the January public forum, Hopkinton Fire Department Chief Gary Daugherty said he wished his department had more uninterrupted time for training first responders about the different types of disabilities they encounter and how best to respond to them. Commission members discussed the possibility of seeking grant funding for the police and fire departments if they are amenable to a proposal.

Having a database for first responders to know if residents have medical challenges also would be extremely helpful in emergencies, noted Cavanaugh. It could include warnings about people having mobility, sight or hearing impairments as well as neurodivergent conditions. The form would be voluntary and solely for the use of emergency personnel.

Member Nancy “Punky” Drawe has been speaking with the departments and other community partners regarding this initiative, according to Morand. Morand said more information about the commission’s idea is expected to be released shortly.

Regarding training, member Praveen Hariharan mentioned the need for first responders to be trained in seizure awareness and de-escalation techniques during mental health crises.

Cavanaugh asked if either the police or firefighters have a mental health clinician available to respond to crises of this nature. She works as a mobile crisis advocate in northern Worcester County.

“Mobile crisis response has changed a lot since COVID in terms of what the state requires,” she added. “This would be educational for the departments.”

Cavanaugh said she would reach out to the mobile crisis director to obtain more information. She also volunteered to contact the police and fire departments to determine their needs and current methodologies.

DiMascio suggested collaborating with neighboring commissions on disability on potential regional grant opportunities.

Community outreach stressed

Commission members discussed having a presence at upcoming events such as the Farmers Market, the Pride Parade, PolyArts, Hopkinton Family Day and the summer concert series at the Town Common. Morand said it would be a good opportunity for outreach to people of all ages and abilities.

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