Can you imagine showing up for work and the staircase to your office on the second floor is gone? All your coworkers are already there, but there’s no way in for you. Or, can you imagine making plans to meet your friends out for dinner, and when you get to the restaurant its front door is barricaded? All your friends are inside enjoying their meal together, but there’s no way in for you. Or, can you imagine being at a meeting where the discussion includes something important about your future, but you have no idea what everyone is saying because you can’t hear them?  

It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Most of us would do everything in our power to correct those situations, and fast. However, moments like these occur every day for millions of people around the world, including in the United States, even though the Americans with Disabilities Act became a civil rights law over 27 years ago. The law seeks to prevent discrimination based on disability against the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any public accommodation. Solutions for the equalization of opportunities for people with disabilities have not been fast, and part of the reason why is because many people lack information.  

The town of Ridgefield is one of the few towns in the U.S. to have a Commission for Accessibility. The commission is an information-gathering source for our Board of Selectmen.  We are also a conduit for accessibility issues in Ridgefield, helping our neighbors by being a sounding board and providing direction to the solutions they need. Most recently, and most importantly, our commission guided our town to its first ADA self-evaluation. This evaluation is currently underway with a premier partner from Boston — the Institute for Human Centered Design. This is a big deal!  

Per the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more Americans age 65 and older than in any time in history. In 2016, they represented 23% of the total U.S. population and are sometimes referred to as the “Silver Tsunami.” The Northeast is home to the largest percentage of people over the age of 65. In Ridgefield, 47% of residents are over age 50. With the process of aging, there is typically an increase in disability, including losses in mobility, vision, hearing and cognizance.  There are also five million children in the U.S. who have a disability. This all adds up to a growing need for accessibility that must be addressed. Let’s be ready.

The report that will come out of our self-evaluation will include a timeline and a budget for remediation. It will give us a chance to plan over the short- and long-term. Without a plan, we remain at risk of needing to make repairs not on our own terms, but those of the Department of Justice and with the risk of considerable expense. ADA remediation must begin in earnest. We welcome participation in this process by attending our monthly meetings and or contacting any one of our commissioners.

The Commission for Accessibility is pleased to have this new column, “Accessibility Matters,” in which we will regularly share information to empower our neighbors to help guide the ADA plan.  Our journey together will give us something to look forward to — opportunities to fully participate in everything our town offers now and in the future. Please share ideas or comments with us at CFA@ridgefieldct.org.

This column was submitted to The Press by the Commission for the Disabled. It will appear monthly.