Tag Archives: Americans With Disabilities Act

Turning The Tables

Westport’s Parks and Recreation Department and Commission have done an admirable job improving South Beach.

The alcohol-allowed-but-no-glass-please section of Compo Beach was always a favorite spot for cookouts, picnics, sunset-watching and walking.

This summer, the extension of the walking path from the cannons made it much safer. The addition of new barbecue grills eased the crunch for choice spots. The rollout of a Mobi-Mat enabled folks with mobility issues, strollers, even heavy ice chests to reach the water’s edge.

Parks & Rec has done even more at South Beach. But many beachgoers may not be aware of exactly what it all entails.

Picnickers love the new round tables, placed close to the parking area:

They look great, they’re comfortable, and they’ve got a nice, modern design.

That design is not by chance. Here’s a view from the other side. That open area is specially created, for people using wheelchairs.

(Photos/Bruce McFadden)

Note the new nearby grill. It’s adjustable — and handicap accessible too.

The concrete pad in the foreground makes for easier access for wheelchairs, and others with limited mobility.

Many people with disabilities use the new tables and grills. I’ve also seen them occupied by groups in which no one has a disability.

That’s not their fault. They probably have no idea what the new equipment is designed for.

And there may be more of these tables and grills than there are people who’d like to use them.

Perhaps there could be signs on the tables and grills: “Designed for use by our neighbors with disabilities.”

I’m sure they’d still be used by non-disabled folks. But maybe they’d be the last ones occupied — not the first — on those days when everyone (including those with wheelchairs) wants to enjoy our wonderful, beaautiful beach.

All Abilities Welcome At ADA Compo Celebration

At first, the long blue mat drew puzzled stares.

Very quickly last year however, the Mobi-Mat — running from the Compo Beach boardwalk to the water, near the brick pavilion — proved spectacularly popular.

People using wheelchairs and walkers — plus parents pushing  strollers — loved the non-stick surface. Soon it was used by others who, for whatever reason, had trouble navigating the sand.

One of the Compo Beach Mobi-Mat’s many users. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

It was a smart, simple solution to an age-old problem: providing access to amenities for the many folks with mobility or related issues.

That’s not all that our Parks & Recreation Department has done to make Compo more accessible to all.

The boardwalk was extended 2 years ago, from the pavilion to the cannons. This year another section was added, from the cannons to the end of South Beach.

It’s a safety measure for all. And a godsend for everyone with a mobility issue, who just could not walk on the sand — or in the road — to enjoy the very popular barbecue-and-sunset-watching end of Compo.

The new South Beach boardwalk increases accessibility, adds safety — and does not take away those beloved close-in parking spots.

The addition of picnic tables with cutouts for wheelchairs — in the pavilion next to Joey’s by the Shore — was one more small but important recognition that Westport is a place that tries to welcome everyone, of all physical abilities.

So it’s fitting that next Wednesday (June 26, 5:30 p.m., near the new South Beach bathrooms), the town celebrates Westport’s efforts to improve accessibility everywhere.

Parks and Rec director Jen Fava, Human Services director Elaine Daignault and Westport’s Commission on People with Disabilities will host the event. First Selectman Jim Marpe — an ADA champion — will be there too.

The location is significant. Not only are the new bathrooms handicap accessible — of course! — but they’re located across from 2 barbecue stations with ADA-compliant surfaces. They’re specially marked, for folks with wheelchairs and vehicles that transport them.

Jr’s Deli will provide free hot dogs.

Crumb Together — the bakery that trains and employs adults with disabilities — will be there too.

Everyone — of all abilities — is invited!

Disabilities Commission: It’s Way More Than Ramps

The Americans With Disabilities Act — signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 — had many consequences.

Some were intended. Others were not.

It opened employment and educational opportunities for tens of millions of Americans with physical and emotional issues. Curb cuts and other design changes now benefit pregnant mothers, parents with youngsters and the elderly.

The ADA also impelled the state of Connecticut to create grants, allowing towns to fund initiatives studying the best ways to promote inclusion for people with disabilities.

In 2006, Westport and Wilton formed a task force. One recommendation was followed: Today our town has a designated official for disability issues (Sarah Heath, in Human Services).

One recommendation was not followed: the creation of a permanent commission.

Until now.

Jim Ross

Jim Ross

Earlier this month, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced appointments to Westport’s new Commission on People With Disabilities, which the RTM approved in July. Members include Marina Derman, Diane Johnson, Stacie Curran, LuAnn Giunta, Tom Holleman and Evan Levinson.

The chair is Jim Ross. A successful businessman, he’s also the former head of the Westport Citizens Transit Committee.

Ross is legally blind, and the father of 2 special needs children. “I live this every day,” he notes.

He became a voice for the disabled community in 2012, when  he helped pass legislation giving students access to epilepsy medicine when a school nurse is not present.

Along the way, he  met Human Services director Barbara Butler, who told Ross that the proposal for a town commission had never been implemented.

Ross went to work. Now — with Marpe’s help, and broad public support — it’s a reality.

Westport's former director of human services, Barbara Butler, is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities.

Westport’s former director of human services, Barbara Butler, is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities.

There’s a reason so many Westporters support the new commission. Twenty percent of the town’s population is directly affected by their own or a family member’s physical or intellectual disability. In a community like ours, that means all of us have neighbors, friends and fellow members of civic groups and congregations with disabilities.

“This is an exceptionally humbling opportunity,” Ross says of his post. “It’s a chance to take the ADA — a magnificent civil rights initiative — to the local  level.”

He notes that Westport — a “very socially aware town” — has already done good things. There are ramps everywhere. Compo Beach has a sand wheelchair. The Levitt Pavilion is quite accessible.

But, he adds, “this is about a lot more than ramps. It’s a 2-way conversation between people with disabilities, and the community as a whole. It’s a chance for businesses, organizations, the town and people to have a dialogue to create avenues, paths and bridges for everyone to come together.”

In many ways, Ross says, “people with disabilities are heroes. We can learn a lot about ourselves by including them, and letting them contribute to a more vigorous, dynamic environment. This is not about clubbing people over the head. It’s about everyone working together.”

Beach wheelchair sign

He mentions education, housing, transportation, recreation, employment, the arts and emergency preparedness as areas in which discussions involving people with disabilities can lead to “logistical and tactical benefits” for all Westporters.

He’s eager to get started. Ross calls the 7-member commission “a dynamite group. Everyone has a different area of expertise.”

The Commission on People With Disabilities will meet publicly the 3rd Thursday of every month. The 1st session is Thursday, January 19 (8:30 a.m.), at Town Hall.

Of course, it’s handicap accessible.

Dorian Kail Does The White House

Yesterday’s “06880” post about the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act — and the formation of a possible town commission on disabilities — resonated with Dorian Kail.

The Westport native manages the professional wheelchair division at New York Road Runners (including the marathon). She’s been awed by the accomplishments of the men and women who use wheels to run.

One of her top athletes — the fastest wheelchair marathoner of all time — is Tatyana McFadden. She won a lawsuit against her high school to allow wheelchair participants in sports.

Last week, McFadden invited Kail to the White House, to celebrate the ADA’s anniversary. McFadden and Kail met the president; Kail also had a quick conversation with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Bob Dole (who as a senator helped pass the ADA).

Dorian Kail and Vice President Joe Biden.

Dorian Kail and Vice President Joe Biden, at the White House.

Thanks for all you’ve done, Dorian. Keep on pushing — and keep helping these remarkable athletes run.

Dorian Kail and Tatyana McFadden stroll through the White House.

Dorian Kail and Tatyana McFadden stroll through the White House.

Former senator Bob Dole -- now 92 years old -- asked for a selfie with Dorian Kail.

Former senator Bob Dole — now 92 years old — asked for a selfie with Dorian Kail.

Westport Mulls Commission On Disabilities

Yesterday (Sunday, July 26) marked the 25 anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

You may have missed it. If you’re non-disabled, you probably never think of it. If you have a disability, you may have been out on a glorious Westport day. Perhaps you were at the beach or Longshore, or enjoyed a night at the Levitt — all easily accessible for everyone.

As a town, Westport has enabled access, supported transportation and provided programs and services that promote inclusion for people with disabilities.

When the beach wheelchair was delivered 10 years ago, then-Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy gave Rotary president Irwin Lebish a ride.

When a new beach wheelchair was delivered 3 years ago, then-Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy gave Rotary president Irwin Lebish a ride.

Now, the town hopes to do more.

First Selectman Jim Marpe, and a steering committee headed by Barbara Butler (director of Westport Human Services) and Jim Ross (chair of the Westport Citizens Transit Committee) are considering a proposal to create a permanent Westport Commission on People with Disabilities.

The group would serve as a resource for people with disabilities and their families, as well as offer guidance to town officials on the development of programs and policies enabling residents to participate fully in community life.

The steering committee has created a short survey, seeking feedback on the initiative. They ask all “06880” readers to click here to participate.