Back view of 86 Essex St. It has been home to low-income families with disabilities since 1985.
[Originally published in the letters column of the Gazette]
To the Editor:
I’ve been following the efforts towards a new playground on the Common very closely; I’m a former resident of the Common neighborhood and current member of the Salem Commission on Disabilities. I noted Sarah Gaddipati, a founder of Parents United, talking about “a local mother of a special-needs child who requested the playground be handicapped-accessible.”
I’ve been part of the disability community in Salem for a very long time. When we have tried to get accommodations for members of our community, we have often been told, “Why do this for only one person?” Ms. Gaddipati may have given the impression that only one parent requested accessibility. This is not so.
Overlooking Salem Common, the apartment complex at 86 Essex St., and its neighbors at 84 and 88 Essex, site of the old Phillips School, is Salem’s first and only public housing for families with disabilities. It has been housing for 23 years and it predates the Salem Common Neighborhood Association, and gentrification.
There are several families of special needs children at 86 Essex, and because of the building’s role, there will always be children with disabilities there. That building has been a haven for people who face numerous health problems that would leave them institutionalized without the stable environment that lets its residents live stable, meaningful and independent lives. People in that building are economically worse off than the affluent neighbors that inhabit the Common.
For that reason, the people of 86 Essex have been virtually ignored by the neighborhood association, administrations current and past and even by ward councilors. Hannah Diozzi is right to point out that the Common is for everyone in Salem, but the current neighborhood association, not to mention a few politicians, gladly treat the Common as their own private historic theme park.
Presently, the only playground where children with disabilities and children without disabilities can play together is in Peabody.
This is intolerable.
I have fought to get people with disabilities the same rights and privileges as people without disabilities, and one of these privileges we take for granted is the ability to take one’s children to the playground. Close by. People with disabilities, parents, children and others, have the right to participate in society just as people without disabilities do.
Even on the Common.
Especially on the Common.
Former resident of 86 Essex
Salem Commission on Disabilities