12 April 2012
Group to Improve Our Ability to Deal with Disability
If you didn't see Phil Camp’s editorial "Is Woodstock Really Accessible?” dig out last week's Standard from your recycling bin and read it. All Woodstock residents should hear his strong, clear message about making our town compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law enacted more than two decades ago.
Camp's editorial pointed out a widespread lack of understanding of ADA’s requirements, described the risk of litigation, and emphasized the need for compliance. "Without a detailed plan in place... serious consequences could be near at hand," he said.
That forthright wake-up call is clearly necessary. But so too is a reminder that ours is community with an aging population whose needs should be considered. Louise Russell, a Woodstock resident who for 20 years was Director of Harvard’s Accessible Education Office explained, "If you're in a wheelchair, there are few places here to have lunch or dinner. Aging or injured Woodstock residents have little choice but to stay at home. As their medical conditions evolve, their social networks shrink."
And our town’s dependence on tourism emphasizes our need to be visitor friendly. "Because the ADA has been in effect since 1990, tourists with disabilities have come to expect access to places where they can use their credit cards – cards that are just as valid as those used by nondisabled visitors," said Russell.
The good news is that a group calling itself the Woodstock Access Group has been meeting over the past few months to discuss what can be done about improving accessibility in Woodstock Village. After obtaining input from a number of local and state resources, this ad hoc group of residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses and professionals has decided on a course of action.
"Our goal is to help Woodstock become a fully accessible community," said Sally Miller, Director of Sustainable Woodstock, and member of the Woodstock Access Group. "And in doing so, our group is interested in developing a template for other historic villages and downtowns to address ADA compliance in a creative, thoughtful, and affordable way."
The first phase of the project is to conduct a survey of the accessibility of all buildings open to the public in Woodstock's historic village. That information will be incorporated into a document that also outlines the current regulations and identifies available resources. Simultaneously, an initiative will be launched to raise awareness among residents and businesses, and to build support for action in the community.
A request for the $5000 required to fund these activities has already been sent out. The Woodstock Access Group hopes that this first phase will be completed by October 1 so that the subsequent funding and implementation of necessary changes can begin well before the end of the year.
Phil Camp’s editorial concluded by saying that if the community's ability to respond to Tropical Storm Irene is any indication, the town will rally around this important change process. We couldn't agree more. The time has come for Woodstock to become a welcoming place for all, regardless of their mobility.
by Christopher Bartlett