Trying to make the world better, fairer, more inclusive, a troop of Girl Scouts is working on the issue of access to shops and restaurants in Ridgefield for people with disabilities.
The fifth grade girls of Branchville School’s Troop 50669 visited a recent Commission for the Disabled meeting, and are writing to commercial landlords in the village to lobby for ramps that would make stores and restaurants more accessible.
“We came up with this idea because our friend Dina was in a wheelchair. We wanted to promote easy access for our friend,” said Aimee Kennerley.
“She feels disincluded,” said Katherine Lombardo. “If she’s going to a party, she can’t pick out the present for her friend.”
“Dina is one of my best friends,” said Ainsley King. “I can’t go places with her in town. She’s in a wheelchair. It’s hard to find places to go … places don’t have ramps.”
“This is important to me and my troop because we have a friend, Dina, in a wheelchair, and she can’t really get into town,” said Nicole Gardner. “Most stores don’t have accessible ramps. And they don’t have a button you push and it will open.”
Pam Banks, who co-leads the troop with Louise Kennerley and Madiha Jamshed — Dina’s mother — explained how the girls got involved.
“In fifth grade, the girls need to do their Bronze Award, which is rooted in identifying something in the community that is not fair/just or is a problem and then developing a strategy to make a change,” she said. “The girls brainstormed on what they wanted to influence/change and overwhelmingly this project idea was born.”
The next steps will include writing letters to landlords and owners of stores and restaurants — with a likely focus on access to places fifth graders would be most interested in going.
“We were thinking of our Bronze Award. We each wrote an essay,” said Lila Tantary. “Someone came up with the idea of making Main Street more accessible.”
Dina is appreciative of her friends’ efforts.
“I’m in a wheelchair,” she said. “I have to have a ramp or I can’t get in.”
When the girls went to the Commission for the Disabled, they prepared some written materials, including a statement of the problem by Dina:
“My name is Dina Jamshed and I love Ridgefield. I come to Main Street all the time
but there are many stores that I can’t get into …”
The troop asked the commission questions about access for disabled people, and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
“How big a problem is it — are most of the stores complying with the law?”
“What can the town do to get the store owners to make their stores accessible?”
“When the town looked at the issue, did it consider different disabilities? Or just people in wheelchairs?”
“Do you know what it is going to cost? And who will pay for it?”
“What can we do to help?”
‘Awakening of awareness’
Don Ciota, chairman of the town Commission for the Disabled, was encouraged by the girls’ interest.
“The first thing is the awakening of awareness and empathy in these children for what it means to be deprived of accessibility based upon a disability,” Ciota said. “It also says something about the benefits of inclusion for students with disabilities in our educational system and social organizations such as the Girl Scouts.
“Having a classmate with a disability exposes a non-handicapped student to a world they may otherwise take for granted, that is, being able to enter and participate at will in any public accommodation,” he said. “But in this circumstance, they have witnessed the result of a friend being denied such an opportunity, thereby evoking an empathic response, which, in turn, advances their own personal growth into young adulthood.”
The project concerning accessibility wasn’t the one Dina had proposed for the troop when the girls were writing essays and brainstorming about the Bronze Award efforts.
“I wanted to cook for the poor,” Dina said.