Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Salem Commission on Disabilities, March 2009 Unofficial Minutes: Bill Legault, Salem YMCA

Salem Commission on Disability March 2009 Legault

(Continued from last post.)

The March meeting of the Salem Commission on Disabilities was held March 17th, 2008 at 4 PM.  Attending:  Jack Harris, chair, Charlie Reardon, co-chair, Debra Lobsitz, Jean Harris, David Martel, David Moisan, David Tracht, Andrew J. LaPointe, Michael Taylor, Jean Levesque, Assistant ADA Coordinator and Mike Sosnowski, City Council liasion.

Our other guest today is  Bill Legault, Salem YMCA.

Bill:  I want to get equipment for people with disabilities, but I don’t know how many people with disabilities are out there.  There may be grants available for accessible equipment.  The new Y on Leggs Hill doesn’t have accessible equipment, but it does have wheelchair basketball.

Jack:  I’ve found that, in years of advocacy, that you can’t build it and expect people with disabilities to come.

Maureen:  A wheelchair basketball league in Salem was very successful, but only because there was one energetic staffer emailing his pool of players.

Many people with disabilities have so many obstacles to run into that they get discouraged and uninterested in recreation.

Andy:  Is it easier to get to the Salem Y than the new Leggs Hill YMCA?  Bill:  Yes the bus is close by and it’s downtown, but it’s a 110-year old building, so it’s not as good as it could be.

Jack:  It takes more time for people with disabilities to get involved with anything and change their routines.  We just have to make more effort and talk more with them.

Dave M.:  No Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays off for me—always working out at 8:30 AM, 3 days a week!

Bill:  I’m looking for grants for equipment.  I’m a very experienced user (and specifier) of exercise equipment.

Jack:  You can count on our support if you need letters to grant-writers.

Dave M.:  Bill set up a great routine for me when I was recovering.

Andy:  Because Salem is so disabled-friendly, over 20% of our population has a disability.  Many people with disabilities don’t get out because of lack of self-esteem, fear, intimidation.

Maureen:  What pool facilities does the Salem Y have?

Bill:  Two pools.  The smaller pool is for physical therapy and runs at 84 degrees.  It’s not completely accessible, there are three steps but we can move people with chairs.   The big pool has a ramp.

Andy:  Is there Braille material?

Bill:  We’re working on it.

Charlie:  Are there wheelchairs for water?

Bill:  We have one with the big pool but we can move it to the small pool if needed.

Andy:  I work with TIC Network, so I’ll get us publicized.

The Commission thanks Maureen and Bill for taking the time to appear for us, and we’ll be sure to work with them again soon.

Salem Commission on Disabilities, March 2009 Unofficial Minutes: Maureen McKinnon Tucker

Salem Commission on Disability March 2009 resized

(This month’s minutes have been split into two posts.)

The March meeting of the Salem Commission on Disabilities was held March 17th, 2008 at 4 PM.  Attending:  Jack Harris, chair, Charlie Reardon, co-chair, Debra Lobsitz, Jean Harris, David Martel, David Moisan, David Tracht, Andrew J. LaPointe, Michael Taylor, Jean Levesque, Assistant ADA Coordinator and Mike Sosnowski, City Council liasion. 

We had two guests today:  Maureen McKinnon Tucker, Paralympian sailor (gold medalist in “her hobby”) and member of the Marblehead Commission on Disabilities, and Bill Legault, of the Salem Y.

Ms. Tucker runs a sailing program for people with disabilities in East Boston and is in charge of Sail Salem, a new sailing program being established at Winter Island (behind the airplane hangar) for youths and adults. 

She’s running two clinics at Winter Island this summer, using the same type of boat she used in China last year.  Her boat can be steered by anyone with a disability, using only one bicep or one tricep for anyone with limited upper-body strength.  Maureen is also looking for more prospective blind and visually impaired sailors.

Dates are July 18th, 19th and 20th, and August 14th, 15th and 16th at Winter Island.   This is a 3-day clinic that will certify participants in the U.S. Sailing Sailboat Certification.  People with visual impairments will get tested verbally.  There’ll be a morning and afternoon session and the class is limited to 8 people.

Maureen promises it’ll be an exciting use of Winter Island. [Yes!—DM] 

Jack:  It’s unusual, sailing is one of the few sports that is completely integrated into the disability community.  Maureen agrees it’s a team sport that uses and takes advantage of everyone’s strength, making it nearly perfect for people with disabilities.

Maureen described what the boat would look like:  "It’s sexy!”  It’s shaped like a kid’s paper airplane and people sit along the center of the boat.   It’s a fast boat, built especially for people with disabilities.  [Maureen tried to get a picture of the boat and some video for me but through a miscommunication on my part, it didn’t happen.  Sorry—DM]

Maureen:  Other communities, like Gloucester and Swampscott are very interested, but the main program for disabled sailors is in East Boston.  It’s a grassroots effort, with no big sponsors involved.


Maureen applied for a grant from Access America for Salem.  Access America gives awards to cities that have made strong efforts to make themselves accessible for people with disabilities.  There could be some easy fixes with employment and tourism opportunities that would make Salem a great candidate for this grant.

Dave Martel:  There needs to be more coordination.  Maureen:  There is no way for a disabled visitor to know of all of the accessible restaurants and recreation areas and how to get to them.  Dave M. suggests “the blue line of accessibility” on the tourist map, to go along with the red sightseeing line that already exists.  Dave M. wants to collect that information and pass it on to the Chamber and the Mayor’s office, and the city website.  

Jack:  Education.  We could do better.

Maureen:  Emergency preparedness is another easy win since we’ve done the preparation, but haven’t shown it.

Charlie Reardon strongly advocates this and is in violent agreement with Maureen.  Salem has many more curb cuts and is much more inviting to the disabled than many other places.

Jack made a strong suggestion that Andy LaPointe sign up for the sailing class, after Andy’s previous experience in a kayak (it flipped on him and he lost his cell phone!)  [True!—DM]

Jack reminds everyone the Salem Ferry is accessible to people with disabilities.  [The ferry will run again in late May—DM]

Andy asks Maureen if anything else needs to be done to get the grant:  Answer:  Just work harder on our marketing with the Chamber and the Mayor’s office and get things in place by September, when it’s time to apply.  Maureen is working with Shaugnessy to get a matching grant. 

Maureen’s email:  

Thanks to Maureen for coming.  The Disability Commission is very proud of what you’ve done for our country and our community and we’ll help out in any way we can.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Governor Patrick Answers a Question

Governor Patrick was recently in Salem holding a town hall meeting on his proposed transportation reform, including a 19-cent increase to the gas tax.  It was a friendly audience at the Salem Public Library, but one gentleman had a hard question for the governor:

Patrick mentioned 1,000 state layoffs, out of 30,000 state workers.  This doesn’t sound like a big layoff, unless, as the governor points out, one of the layoffs is someone at the RMV who’s not available to take your call.

Or your caseworker.  1,000 layoffs is small only if you expect state workers are just numbers.

Deval handled this politely, but as I said last fall during the Question One debate, I’m not so tolerant of the Barbara Anderson viewpoint as I used to be.

Months and months of screaming on the Salem News comment pages destroys one’s tolerance for “fire the hacks!”  (except for “my elected hack”, or “my state job”.)

Uh-oh: Governor’s stimulus project planning might exclude accessibility

Salem Depot HP Ramp 023

A problem’s come up in the federal stimulus that we're keeping our eyes on:  Advocates Say State Trampling Rights of Disabled in Rush For Stimulus Funds.

The governor's task forces on federal stimulus funding, which helped identify billions of dollars last month in "shovel-ready projects" in Massachusetts, has angered advocates for the disabled by suggesting that the state forego reviews of the need for handicapped accessibility to prevent construction delays.

Activists are threatening legal action and planning to protest a Monday meeting of the state Architectural Access Board. They fear that if the state overlooks accessibility in its rush to put federal stimulus funds to use, it will never find the money to make the buildings accessible.

"For the governor to put a document out that says the first thing we're going to do is abrogate the rights of people with disabilities in order to spend the stimulus money is a real slap in the face to people with disabilities who have fought for civil rights for so many years," said Bill Allan, executive director of the Disability Policy Consortium, a Boston-based organization of volunteer disability rights activists.

We haven’t discussed this as a group at the Commission on Disabilities, but I have discussed this in email with several members.  There are a number of state projects in Salem that this could affect, such as the courthouse and the new train station garage.

Governor Patrick was here recently for a town hall meeting.  If this news had only come up then, I would have commented.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A New Senior Center: More Shouting

Salem CoA Building 8-3-2007. (10)The Salem News (and the Gazette)  have reported on last week’s public hearing on the mayor’s proposed site for the new senior center, Boston & Bridge Sts.

As reported, and as I feared, the meeting was a shouting match according to the News , a “marathon 3-1/2 hour public hearing”.  Just like the Courthouse meeting last year.  I didn’t want to go to that hearing or even film it for SATV, knowing that it was going to be all screaming.  Sadly, I wasn’t wrong.

If you’re a long-time reader of my blog, you probably have guessed my position on the new center.

Unfortunately, I am going against most of my friends, including Leo Jodoin and my own ward councilor, Mike Sosnowski:  The senior center at Boston St. is the best and most affordable option for Salem.  The Willows site should not even be an option if we value access to the senior center for all our elderly, not just those with complete mobility and good eyesight.

Some of my reasoning has been posted before, but I’ll summarize it again.

For the past several months, the Commission on Disabilities has been discussing pedestrian and bus access to the new YMCA at Leggs Hill Road on the Marblehead/Salem line.  Presently, the route 455/459 runs the closest, passing by Leggs Hill about a 1/4 mile from the YMCA, at Loring Ave, where a small bridge runs over Forest River.

Unfortunately, the Y’s on a big hill and the road up to the facility has no sidewalk.  We discussed this at length.  We also discussed the lack of a sidewalk at the curve outside South Campus, on which many motorized-chair users go to and from the college.

In fact, we took two meetings to discuss how disabled bus users could possibly get to use the new Y.  When Maureen McConnell (paralympian and commissioner on Marblehead’s disability board) comes to our March meeting, we’ll discuss that some more!  Our February meeting just past was full of discussion over the Highland Ave. sidewalk situation and praise over my getting it into the News.

The Commission and I consider transit access very important, obviously.

The Willows site proponents don’t even pretend that it’s accessible by foot.    They are amongst the 70% of seniors using the center that now drive to the center.  Buses haven’t run to the Willows for 39 years and probably never will again for the foreseeable future.

Where does that leave the 30% who don’t drive?  I know, the vans, right?  Not really.

A concrete example:  Let’s say it’s 2030, I’m still in Salem (I’m not sure how) and I want to go to the senior center for a class.  Let’s say, additionally, I want to volunteer and teach the class.  (If I want passive entertainment, I’ll watch TV!)

At Boston St., this is easy:  I walk down to the bus stop a little while before class starts and take the #465, which I expect may still be running in 2030 since it is a long-established route.  I don’t exactly have perfect freedom—I have to wait for the bus—but it’s not bad.

At the Willows, there is no bus service.  I loved walking down to the Willows in the spring in 2009 but since my hip got worked on I can’t walk very far.  So I get a van.  Right?

This van, though it’s the best the city can provide, and a real necessity for many, is limited.  I can’t take it when I want;  I have to plan to go to the center.  And I can’t just go for my class and then go home, I have to stay the whole day, like a schoolchild.

This assumes the van is running, that it’s not late or didn’t forget to pick you up, that the weather is reasonable.

I’m not going to have the same experience as the 70% who can drive there whenever they feel like it.  More often than not in debates over transportation access, the 30% who have to rely on other transit are just told to "just deal with it, we can’t serve everybody!”

When my mother was confined to a wheelchair and got her motorized scooter, she wanted to go everywhere with it!  If she decided at 8PM Saturday that she was going to go to the convenience store for goodies, she was going whether she got my permission or not!  She got into the paper herself over handicapped access.  I’ll be shocked if I don’t think the same way when I’m her age.

The disability community in Salem won’t settle for vans if there’s a better alternative for independence.  The Willows site isn’t it.

Another issue brought up at great length on Salemweb:  pollution.  The Boston St. site is of course the former Sylvania site and will need to be cleaned up.  Aren’t there cleaner sites? 

Reality check:  Salem is nearly 400 years old.  For most of its history, the industry it needed to have in order to be a prosperous city was in its borders or close nearby.  We hadn’t yet invented the concept of having our infrastructure or our industry in China where we never had to think about it or pollution, nor were we living solely from our “historic property values”.

Just in Blubber Hollow alone, there are sites our seniors may be familiar with that they may use every day and take for granted:

  • Walgreens (was Ideal Finishing)
  • Moose Lodge (industrial)
  • Sunshine Laundry (the auto body shop’s out back)

The whole city is filled with old industrial sites:

  • Morency Manor (was a gas station)
  • Jefferson (Parker Brothers & the old Salem DPW garage)
  • Salem Depot (B&M railroad turntable and yard for a century!)
  • Salem State College Central Campus (Sylvania)
  • Wendy’s, Lafayette St. (old factory)
  • SATV (old industrial block with still a few commercial tenants like Salem Overhead Door Co.)

Since virtually every house in Salem once burned coal, who knows what’s in your soil?  Oh, and the Willows site:  Right next to the power plant and its mercury emissions.  You say you don’t run scared in line at Hobbs Popcorn?

The proponents of the Willows site would no doubt discount any unfavorable environmental findings that came out about their favorite place, using the same logic I’ve just used.

The senior center debate, for the loudest shouters like Teazie Goggin, isn’t about pollution or transit or traffic or any of that.  They really want a boon, a clubhouse and a special place at $7.5 million dollars (and rising).

To me, the senior center is none of those things.  It is a place in trust for the community and all seniors in Salem, all of us who get that far, regardless of our income, social status or ability to drive.

It’s not a clubhouse.  Or a “special place”.  Or a boon.  It is for all seniors in Salem.  All of them.  Soon.  Today, not “Someday”.

I wish my ward councilor would stop fighting Mrs. Driscoll long enough to realize that.  He has business in his own ward he should attend to.  Such as a new playground.

Update:  John Walsh makes the same points in the News.    Chris Smigliano has a very cruel, but unfortunately very true editorial cartoon on the controversy.