The town has shown progress on making municipal buildings more accessible to people with disabilities. Now the attention is turning to private businesses.
“The thought was, what about the retail spaces?” said Karen Sulzinsky of the Economic and Community Development Commission (ECDC). “If there was a thought to have a project, have an initiative … to find a way to make the town retail spaces more accessible.”
Jessica Mancini, who serves as the vice chair of the town Board of Finance, also presented to the commission at its Feb. 4. She said a friend’s son can’t access some of the storefronts in town.
“He shops all over the place, but he has to call in advance, they have to bring something out … he’s a shopper at Planet Pizza, but he cannot get inside, they have to bring him food out.”
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately-owned businesses are required to make their buildings more accessible to people with disabilities, so long as there’s no great expense or difficulty in doing so.
“If someone does go to the [Department of Justice], it’s a problem,” said Mancini. “The fines have increased … it’s a big deal. So if the town is doing this, how do we get the landlords to participate, at least in progress [with the town]?”
Christina Calabro, who sits on the town Commission for Accessibility, said that in some cases, making a store more accessible could simply be a matter of buying a $100 ramp from Walmart.
“Some of it is really inexpensive,” she said.
“My guess is very few retailers are going to do anything … I think people would be willing to [add accessibility], but very few are going to do it on their own,” said ECDC member Geoff Morris.
“Again, it is a civil rights law. It’s going to end badly at some point. We just live in a wonderful town where people don’t want to complain,” Mancini added.
Promoting the town as accessible could also be a “selling point” that drives more business, Sulzinsky pointed out.
Calabro suggested the commission could also provide the locations of parking spots for the handicapped on its website.
“Having been temporarily disabled I can tell you, until you’ve walked in those shoes, you don’t know how you are constrained,” said John Devine, ECDC vice chair. “If you want to have fun some day, get in one of those little motorized shopping carts and see how you can not shop … except for everything that’s on the bottom shelf.”