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Apr 10, 2012 3:28 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Push To Remove Hurdles For The Handicapped

Apr 10, 2012 5:22 PM

Just before an East Hampton Village Board work session on Thursday, Gerry Mooney went to an optician in East Hampton Village with his wife, Debbie Mooney, who’s in a wheelchair and needed new frames. Fortunately, there was reserved parking for the handicapped. Unfortunately, the curb leading to the walkway wasn’t cut there.

“If you are not disabled or with someone who’s disabled, it doesn’t really hit you,” Mr. Mooney told the Village Board during a presentation he gave with Glenn Hall, who chairs the East Hampton Town and Village Disabilities Advisory Committee. More than 20 years after the Americans With Disabilities Act became law, barriers persist—ones even as simple as a two-inch step in front of a door or an unmarked parking space for the disabled.

“I think basically everybody wants to do the right thing,” Mr. Mooney said, but “sometimes, in order to get people to do the right thing, you have to push them.”

New construction and renovations already need to conform to ADA rules for accessibility, which both the village and East Hampton Town—much to their credit, Mr. Hall said—adopted as local law years ago. Now Mr. Hall and Mr. Mooney have asked the village to come up with a way to enforce “the last piece of the puzzle”—a systematic approach to barrier removal in the commercial district. They are pushing for improvements the ADA calls “readily achievable,” ones that a business owner can readily afford, to ensure that people with disabilities can shop and dine and use other services without hindrance.

“You don’t have to put an elevator in if you’re running a little shack,” Mr. Hall said. “We’re not trying to move mountains.” Removing a barrier could mean something as easy as putting up a parking sign or installing a handrail in a restroom.

“It’s pretty much about path of travel,” Mr. Hall explained, “and use of a public accommodations.”

Rather than waiting for complaints to come in on a case-by-case basis, Mr. Hall and Mr. Mooney are asking the village to distribute a self-compliance checklist for barrier removal. In addition to identifying problems, the list offers possible solutions to make entrances, goods, services and restrooms easier to access.

After the checklist goes out to store owners, fire or building inspectors would follow up within a certain time period to make sure the business was in compliance. Thomas Lawrence, a code enforcement officer and building inspector who represents the village on the East Hampton Town and Village Disabilities Advisory Board, and Kenneth Collum, a code enforcement officer and fire marshal, already have offered their services.

Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. asked how “readily achievable” was defined, and Mr. Hall replied that the law is vague on that point. “If they say, ‘I can’t afford this,’ you say, ‘Fine, show us your books,’” he explained. Mr. Mooney said that people never do, but make the improvements instead, at least at the national level.

Village Administrator Larry Cantwell warned that it might take a year or two to integrate the checklist and follow up with the existing inspection process. “We’re just saying, ‘Let’s start the process,’” Mr. Hall answered. “There’s a lot to be done. Your system is not going to be the same as the town’s system.” Mr. Hall, who gave a similar presentation with Mr. Mooney at a Town Board work session in March, said the town has not had a representative on the disabilities committee for two years.

Meanwhile, the village is considering two code changes designed to help remove barriers. The first would waive building permit fees for modifications to improve handicapped accessibility. The second would waive setback and coverage limits for such improvements as wheelchair ramps.

Village officials asked Mr. Hall and Mr. Mooney to take a look at the proposed amendments and offer suggestions. Mr. Hall suggested that the village also allow temporary structures, like ramps, to stay up as long as an individual needed to use them. “Nobody lives forever,” he pointed out.

“This is your mother, your father,” he said. “This is for them and ultimately it’s for us. ... Everybody in the world is going to become disabled as they get older.”

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