Tag Archives: Westport Commission on People With Disabilities

The ADA In Westport: 30 Years Of Progress

Thirty years ago this week, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act into law.

It was a monumental achievement. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, transportation and more.

Its effects have been both intended (curb cuts make things easier for wheelchair users; closed captioning aids people with hearing loss) and unintended (those same curb cuts help anyone pushing a stroller or wheeling luggage; closed captions are great for TVs in noisy spots like restaurants and bars.

In Westport — as in the rest of the nation — the ADA has made building access easier. At Compo Beach, Mobi-Mats intended to ease the trek across sand to the Sound for people with mobility problems has been a boon to anyone hauling a cooler (or young kids).

Compo Beach Mobi-Mat. (Photo/Patti Brill)

The new bathrooms at South Beach are a welcome relief to many. So are the walkways that now lead from the pavilion all the way to the kayak launch.

Jim Ross — chair of Westport’s Commission on People With Disabilities — notes a few other important local initiatives.

The Remarkable Theater‘s drive-in movies have brought joy and life to Westport during this entertainment-starved COVID summer. But the theater has another, equally important mission: to create meaningful employment for the disability community. That visibility may be another legacy of the ADA.

The confidential Voluntary Registry — managed by Westport’s Department of Human Services, in conjunction with the Police Department — enables individuals with disabilities, and their families or caregivers, to register medical and living arrangements, so it can be known during a police or fire emergency.

Town officials and disability leaders are working to secure independent housing facilities on town-owned property.

An “Employment is for Everyone” initiative is in its early stages. Ross’ commission is working with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Downtown Merchants Association to help people with disabilities find employment here — and help Westport businesses better serve the disability community.

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

It is estimated that up to 1 in 5 Americans have some sort of disability. Have you, a relative or friend been impacted by the ADA? How does Westport compare to other places, in terms of accessibility and accommodations? Are there areas where Westport can do better? Click “Comments” below.

(For more on the 30th anniversary of the ADA, click here. Hat tips: Diane Johnson and Elaine Daignault.)

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.