The facilities manager in Rochester told the Board of Selectmen on April 10 that for weeks he has been self-assessing handicap accessibility within Rochester buildings and properties, and he gave the board a summary of what steps he would like to take next to bring the town into Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
Facilities manager Andrew Daniel invited Rochester resident Andrew Revell to address the selectmen, bringing his perspective to the matter as a man whose mobility relies on a wheelchair.
Revell, a gerontology professor at UMass Dartmouth, has been assisting other towns with ADA self-assessment and transition plan development. He looks for ways to improve resources for people with disabilities, he said, including simple things such as parking, signage, and restroom access – or lack thereof.
“…Like our bathroom here,” said Revell. “I use the bathroom before I come here … and I have to leave here to use the bathroom somewhere else because it’s not accessible.”
Revell said he assisted the Town of Hudson in applying for grants for other resources, such as door-to-door transportation for the disabled. Younger people with disabilities are not eligible for council on aging transportation, he pointed out, and the Town of Rochester does not belong to a regional transit authority like Mattapoisett and Wareham do.
Revell suggested seeking to make Rochester a member of the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority to provide disability transportation.
“The major number one thing for people with disabilities is social isolation,” said Revell.
Revell asked the board to commit to pursuing the possibility of moving towards these goals, and asked whether the Town of Rochester would seek to form a Tri-Town commission on disabilities. He said Mattapoisett once had one, but it dissolved about a decade ago due to a low number of people with disabilities healthy enough to attend meetings.
“I think it would help get some people out of their homes … and meet some other disabled people,” Revell said.
Revell has two children at Rochester Memorial School. He said, “I’m very interested in disabled conditions for everybody, including our children. I’d like to think about children with disabilities, not just older people with disabilities.
“I’ve spoken with the two other towns,” said Daniel, regarding a regionalized effort to become ADA compliant. “And also your odds for grants would increase. That’s definitely a good option for Rochester to choose to be part of this community…. I think its well worth doing.”
The selectmen decided to consult with town counsel on the best way to move forward.
Daniel said he thought that he knew quite a bit about ADA compliance because of his knowledge of the building code, “But what I really learned was that I’d only just touched the surface.” He added that municipalities were supposed to be compliant by January 1996 under Title 2.
Daniel said a state grant for up to $250,000 is available for ADA compliance, and since the Town has already joined with the state in a community compact agreement, those funds would be even more possible.
Daniel has already submitted his self-assessment findings to the state for review of his evaluation and draft transition plan.
“Every building could use something,” said Daniel, “whether it be automatic door push buttons,” wider thresholds, or van parking spots. Daniel also advocated for looking into beach wheelchairs so that those with disabilities can access the shoreline.
“That’s a lot of work,” said Chairman Naida Parker. “Thank you.”
In other matters, Daniel also addressed the need for more filing space at the Town Hall Annex, again recommending the town seek a new model of movable file systems that could increase file storage by 50 percent. The cost would be around $52,000, a one-time expense that could be moved in the future should the Town find a viable option for a new town hall annex location.
The $52,000 will appear on the town meeting warrant as an article. Also on the warrant will be an article to appropriate $5,000 to join the two other Tri-Town towns in funding a “forensic financial audit” of ORR budget spending.
The deadline for submitting articles for the Annual Town Meeting on May 22 is April 22.
The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for April 24 at 6:30 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
By Jean Perry