Access for all: A study, and a list

Door handles, drinking fountains, toilets, signs, steps and stairs, narrow doorways, high countertops, pathways to be paved — the Institute for Human Centered Design is finding lots of work to do, studying town accessibility problems.

The study, started last summer, doesn’t have a completion date in sight. But work to address problems it’s finding has begun.

“We’re not waiting for that,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said of the final report. “We’ve begun to the do the low-hanging fruit as much as we can, like the water fountains in this building, signage at all buildings.”

“Signage is important,” said Town Social Services Director Tony Phillips. “...It tells everyone where to go and what services are provided.”

Battling through obstacles to get to a locked door can discourage people with mobility problems.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets rules about signs.

“They have to be block letters, high contrast; interior signs need braille and are generally placed at the right height on the latch side of the door,” Phillips said.

The Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD) is a Massachusetts-based consulting firm that’s been working since last summer on a comprehensive study that will list accessibility problems in 90 to 100 town and school properties.

They can then be prioritized and serve as a to-do list. The town has been allocating about $75,000 a year to address accessibility issues.

“IHCD has been doing a very nice job working with us,” Phillips said.

“They came down to do site visits three or four times since we began. They have visited almost every site, and we believe there are only a few items left that still need review.”

The firm began sharing draft write-ups on various locations in December.

“Right now, we are reviewing to ensure accuracy, content and make sure there are not areas that were missed,” Phillips said.

Teen center and elsewhere

The Barn teen center, a smaller site off Governor Street, generated four pages with eight photos. The listed problems include: entrances, kitchen, toilet room, outside benches and picnic tables. The cost estimate is $3,552 — almost half of that will be spent on the toilet room.  

“The flush control at the single-user toilet room is not located on the open/transfer side, the rear grab bar is shorter than the 42 inches required and there is no audible and visible fire alarm provided,” the report said. “Additionally the lavatory lacks toe and knee clearance and has exposed plumbing underneath.”

Areas still needing to be looked at include schools, playgrounds and fields, open spaces that host programs, and the town website.

“Right now, I’m focused on making sure our final product/document has everything we need in it to create a road map to making corrections,” Phillips said.

With the report, “we can really prioritize specific items, what should go first, or locate the projects we think will be easier to complete or that can also have a big impact,” Phillips said.

Narrow doors

Issues range from easy no-cost fixes — like furniture-crowding pathways — to modest-cost problems, like high countertops and “door knobs that need to be changed to door handles that can be operated with a closed hand.”

There are also structural problems.

“Older buildings that have doorways that are narrow or that require a step to get into,” Phillips said.

Elevators or “LULAs”  — limited use, limited application lifts — may be needed.  

“...Some schools require stairs to get onto their stage, the Barlow Mountain pool bleachers require stairs and the second floor of both the police and fire departments require stairs.”

Parking lots need to re-stripped to accommodate wheelchairs and possibly repaved, maybe leveled to reduce slopes.

Fields and playgrounds are being studied, but the reports aren’t in yet. Goals include accessible pathways from schools to ball fields. “Scotland, VP, Branchville and Ridgebury have large elevation changes between the school buildings and the fields and have long distances to cover,” Phillips said.

With multiple issues at about 100 sites, there’ll be decisions to make.

“In my mind, I would probably start with fixing issues that can have the biggest and in many cases ‘basic’ impact, especially when I think of basic access to a facility/program; like parking, ramps, pathways, signage and bathroom access,” Phillips said.