Northampton Disability Commission urges reforms

  • Chris Palames of Northampton, right, talks with Lindsay Sabadosa, then the presumptive 1st Hampshire District state representative, before a town hall discussion at the Northampton Elks Lodge on Oct. 25. Palames, a member of Northampton’s Disability Commission, is urging reforms to strengthen the city’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 7/2/2019 11:12:55 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After a multi-year process, the Disability Commission is putting forward 13 recommendations to strengthen the city’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The city’s ADA Compliance Plan hasn’t been updated since 1995. The commission began moves to update the ADA policies of Northampton in 2016, and in 2017 received a $10,000 planning grant to support the update.

“The ADA is civil rights law,” said Disability Commission member Chris Palames.

Palames said he and the commission believe that the city is not in compliance with the ADA. He also said that the city is open to liability as a result.

The lead recommendation of the commission is to restructure the ADA coordinator position to better handle the workload.

The commission asserts that, as now defined, the position is not workable, and that any solution will require a more substantial investment of city resources. It also suggests the possibility of sharing the position with other communities.

The coordinator position is now part of the senior services director’s job. Palames is lobbying for making it independent.

“It’s an add-on,” said Palames, saying that the director of senior services is a full-time job in and of itself.

The current and former coordinator are also in favor of breaking it off, he said.

“We need steadiness, we need consistency,” said Palames.

Aside from the ADA coordinator change, the other suggestions include promoting and enforcing snow removal procedures and standards, strengthening the enforcement of rules against blocking public walkways with vehicles, and improving the accessibility of parks and public places.

Other recommendations include providing at least one fully accessible bathroom at City Council Chambers, improving access at high-volume crosswalks, and upgrading the emergency shelter at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School to have accessible bathrooms, showers and stage access.

Palames said that the hope would be that the coordinator would help to implement the other recommendations.

On June 24, the Disability Commission presented its recommendations to the public for the first time in a public hearing. Palames said of the people who spoke, deterioration of the walkways was a significant topic.

“We will have at least two more (hearings),” Palames said.

He also said that at least one of these hearings will have sign language interpreters and assisted hearing devices. He said that one person at the last hearing required an assisted hearing device and none was available. No follow-up hearing has yet been scheduled.

Palames said Mayor David Narkewicz was first presented with these recommendations some months earlier, and that the mayor’s office has been working with the commission. He also said that he would like the mayor to define a timeline to act on the recommendations, not necessarily tied to the hearings.

“This is a matter of urgency,” he said

Narkewicz expressed his thanks to both the commission and Palames. He said once the commission finalizes the draft of its recommendations, he will bring them before the city council for its endorsement.

On the role of the ADA coordinator, Narkewicz said he had a preliminary conversation about sharing the position with Easthampton’s mayor. He also said that grants to fund the position have been explored.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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