IM this article to a friend!

November 22, 2002

The daily trials of the disabled

From: Framingham TAB, MA
Nov. 22, 2002

By Charlie Breitrose / Staff Writer

Is town doing enough to accommodate the disabled?

Most people don't think twice about crossing the street - after looking both ways, of course. Just step off the curb and stroll across to the other side.

This seemingly simple task is much more difficult for someone who uses a wheelchair, or who cannot see. Many crosswalks do not have the ramps on the sidewalk so wheel chairs can access the road, and few crossing signals make a noise to alert the blind that it's safe to cross.

Lifelong town resident Karen Foran knows the travails of navigating around Framingham in a wheelchair scooter.

"I love Framingham, I've lived here for 35 years," Foran said. "It's gotten better, but there's a lot to be done."

In order to foster change Foran has joined the town's newest commission, the Disability Commission.

Dennis Polselli, chairman of the commission, said the state offers good legal protections and assurances for disabled people. Polselli, who is blind, however, added that these laws don't always cut it.

"I would say on paper this is a good state (for the disabled), but it's not always the reality," Polselli said.

The group used to be a subcommittee of the Human Relations Commission, but last May Town Meeting approved the commission and the group held its first meeting in September.

State law requires all new sidewalks, and those being replaced, to include the ramps (also called cut outs), said Kathy Bartolini, executive director of planning and development.

Public buildings, too, must be made accessible to those with physical handicaps.

Foran has also run into difficulties at private businesses and organizations that hold public or political functions.

"The former Union House, they have a lot of political meetings there," Foran said. "Getting in required going up a step, so it's been a sore point."

The group had problems convincing the old owners of the restaurant to make changes, Foran said, and the commission is working with the new owners to make the place more accessible.

The Union House isn't the only spot Foran has run into trouble. When Robert Reich made a stop on his campaign for governor he met at the Framingham Elk's Lodge. Unfortunately for Foran, the meeting hall is up a flight of stairs.

"It's not accessible to people in wheelchairs," Foran said. "Some politicians have meetings there, like Robert Reich.

"I talked to him in the parking lot, but I couldn't go to the meeting."

Framingham also has a large deaf population, Polselli said, noting that many people have come here to attend the Learning Center for the Deaf and other organizations like the Bethany Deaf Community Center.

He said he'd like the town to follow the model Watertown has set with it's blind population.

"Watertown has Perkins School for the Blind, and people are pretty sensitive to the the issues of the blind there," Polselli said. "I think Framingham should be like that for the audibly impaired."

Despite the large population, Polselli said has found a lack of accommodations for the deaf at meetings of town government.

"There's no closed captioning or help for deaf who look and observe at Town Meeting," Polselli said. "Even on TV, there is no closed captioning.

"It's part of a budgetary issue," he said. "But it's an area that some of us think is not adequately addressed."

While some disabilities are easy to spot, such as a blind person walking with a cane or someone who can not use their legs traveling in a wheelchair, others are hidden. People with mental disabilities and mental illness are difficult to spot, many times.

Bob Charpentier, employment services manager for Programs for People, said this population often has a hard time finding a job.

Charpentier works with the MetroWest Work Opportunities Coalition to encourage companies to hire more disabled workers.

Receptiveness varies from company to company, Charpentier said. The group has had success with some employers, include Roche Brothers, Shaw's, Stop & Shop, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us.

"For a lot of companies it's a no-brainer, they think it's good to have a diverse work force including the disabled," Charpentier said. "Others are afraid to do that. They are afraid it could cost them money."

Many companies get on board when they learn of the possible benefits, Charpentier said, but the hard work can be easily lost.

"It's a constant process," he said. "When management changes or ownership changes we have to start over."

Foran said she believes that people will be sympathetic if they learn about the problems facing the disabled. One effort Foran hopes the Disability Commission will undertake is an education campaign.

"We might do press releases about different disabilities," Foran said. "And we might do disability awareness workshops, probably involving going into schools."

© Copyright by