For Braintree residents who have difficulty getting around, whether because they use a wheelchair, have a heart condition or otherwise, several areas of town are not as accessible as they should be, the Commission on Disabilities argued in a presentation at on Tuesday night.
Town Hall itself, for instance, has two accessible entrances, but both require excessive navigation and can actually be inaccessible for some people, depending on their disability, commission chair Barbara Tennison told members of the .
"It has been 22 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act came about and we as a society have come a long way because of this act," Tennison said, "but we need to start being more proactive as a town in including accessibility in all our plans for renovations..."
Tennison outlined several areas of accessibility deficiency, including sidewalks along Route 37, the town's recreation department trips, much of Braintree's playground equipment, and Daugherty Gym, which is used as an emergency shelter and which in the next year will be renovated to be used as headquarters of the Braintree Emergency Management Agency.
The gym, according to Tennison, does not have an accesssible entrance that meets code, nor accessible bathrooms and showers. She also suggested that the community work on outreach more generally to keep people on top of keeping their sidewalks clear of trash barrels, basketball hoops and other obstacles.
"It's something that you really don't think of," councilor Charles Ryan said of Town Hall in particular, adding that what the commission presented on Tuesday are "very important points that should be addressed."
Several councilors told Tennison and the commission's other part-time members to reach out to them for assistance, and Ryan suggested that Tennison coordinate with Planning and Community Development Director Christine Stickney on applying for historic grants through the Community Preservation Act that could cover accessibility renovations.
Part of the commission's challenge, in addition to being a part-time body, is that it has only a single dedicated funding source that has been dwindling in recent years, Tennison said.
In fiscal year 2007, the commission collected nearly $11,000 from handicap parking fines in Braintree, according to data provided by the commission. During the current year, which ends July 1, it took in $1,300.
Tennison said that one significant reason for the drop-off is that the public is better educated about handicap parking. She is working with Finance Director Ed Spellman on a solution.
"For people who ignore the fines, we need to have some teeth," Chief of Staff and Operations Peter Morin said. He said the town is working on a fee schedule for non-payers that should generate additional revenue.
Morin also said that "Barbara raises valid points and we will look into improving the accessibility of [Town Hall]." The options, he said, include clearing the current routes to make them more accessible, making sure there is adequate response to people who need assistance entering the building and addressing the drainage to avoid dangerous icing near the side entrance.
As part of renovations to make Daugherty Gym suitable for the BEMA headquarters, Morin said the town will make sure the ramp in place now meets code and that the showers and bathrooms are accessible. The front doors will be changed out this summer, he said.
Over the next two years, Braintree will to upgrade the town's 12 neighborhood parks. Tennison said she would have liked to have been included from the start on the planning of those renovations so that they can include necessary accessibility improvements.
"We welcome her input," Morin said.
He added that the renovations will focus on basketball and tennis court re-surfacing, and that if there is a need at any of the parks to improve accessibility in those areas, the town will incorporate that into the projects.
"The issues are not just for the disabled community," Morin said, "they are for the entire community."