Easthampton gets high marks for its accessibility

  • Emily Williston Memorial Library is one of several city buildings where accessibility improvements are needed, according to a study conducted by Worcester-based nonprofit Center for Living & Working. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 8/12/2022 6:24:03 PM
Modified: 8/12/2022 6:20:49 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Independent consultants have found that the city has done a decent job of trying to make government more accessible to all, with one awarding an unofficial grade of B or B-plus.

In the springtime, the city’s 16-owned and operated buildings, 17 facilities and recreation areas and programs and services were assessed as part of an accessibility study conducted by Worcester-based nonprofit, the Center for Living & Working. It also assessed approximately 7 miles of sidewalks, curb ramps and crosswalks.

The study, which was funded with more than $43,000 from the Massachusetts Office on Disability, identifies areas of noncompliance under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and provides an evaluation of policies and procedures as well as recommendations for compliance, according to Jamie Webb, assistant city planner.

“It’s really a working document that the city can track and make the recommended changes to make Easthampton more accessible to everybody,” said Webb.

The results of that 250-page ADA Self-evaluation and Transition Plan, released last week, were presented by consultants for the Center for Living & Working before the Commission on Disability and the City Council.

“I don’t think there is any municipality out there that will get a full 100% on their evaluation,” said Michael Kennedy, ADA access and advocacy coordinator for the Center for Living & Working. “We did find some deficiencies, but overall, it was very impressive.”

James M. Mazik, a subcontractor for the Worcester nonprofit and the former deputy director for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, said if a grade score was attributed to Easthampton’s efforts, the city would receive a “B or a B-plus,” he said.

From the closing speed of a public restroom door to the shape of railings and height of a drinking fountain, the report details circumstances and areas of noncompliance and provides a timeframe and potential cost estimate in achieving compliance.

“We’re very thorough, almost a little too thorough,” Kennedy said at the Aug. 3 City Council meeting. “But you know what, a lot of money was paid to have us do this evaluation transition plan. So, we just want to make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth.”

Kennedy, who described himself as a wheelchair user, recommended that the city update its job descriptions and job openings with more nondiscriminatory and inclusive language.

The report also includes a list of recommended priority improvements in the city. Among some of the areas the city could make more accessible are its sidewalks and curb ramps.

The buildings and areas that were also prioritized were the Emily Williston Memorial Library, Nonotuck Park, Nashawannuck Pond Boardwalk/Promenade Park, the Department of Public Works Recycling Center and the Municipal Building.

The consultants noted that they used the perspective of both the public and employees in their evaluation. For example, the report analyzed whether differently-abled employees could still access the microwave in an employee break room.

“The amount of detail was more than I expected. I’m very grateful that we’ll be able to tackle these issues,” Webb said.

With this plan, the city will be able to apply from other state grants from the Massachusetts Office on Disability to help remove those barriers to participation that currently exist, she added.

Next week, an internal meeting between city departments will be held to figure out what next steps can be taken to achieve some of the plan’s recommendations.

“The intent is to make city government more accessible to everybody. And we’ll get there,” said Webb.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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