The Salem Commission on Disabilities meeting for April 2009 was held at SATV at 4 PM on April 21st, 2009. Attending were Jack Harris, Chair, David Tracht, David Martel, Mike Sosnowski, Council Liaison, David Moisan, Debra Lobsitz, Jean Levesque, ADA Coordinator, Charlie Reardon, Co-Chair and Andy LaPointe via teleconference. Mike Taylor and Jean Harris did not attend.
Jack: A quiet month—which means something always comes up. [Shhh!—DM]
Bypass road MAAB update: A variance was submitted for the bike path and a fine hearing was scheduled for MassHighway. MassHighway’s attorney got in touch with the MAAB and the fine hearing is on hold. [From the letter Jack passed around, it appears that MassHighway submitted an “Alternate Plan 1” for addressing accessibility issues on the bikepath but no details were provided.—DM]
The Witch House: They have put in a variance request that is approved and they are set.
David Martel: The director of the Witch House wants us (Dave Moisan, and Dave Martel) to make a video of the non-accessible areas of the Witch House. A narrator would explain the details and highlights. Dave Martel would donate a DVD player.
Jean Levesque: The House of Seven Gables did this.
Jack: The Witch House is not a non-profit but is owned by the city. He can talk with the Planning Dept. but this will be a long process.
Dave Martel: They have a monitor but not a DVD.
David Moisan: I need a second opinion from our executive director [Sal Russo, SATV]. This is not like a regular access production but it will be part of their business. If this were the Peabody Essex Museum, they would hire commercial videographers for this. Can’t say it’s impossible but it is not SATV’s main purpose. SATV indeed has rented equipment for commercial use at commercial rates but it is secondary to our membership’s use. It is not a simple project.
Jack: This needs to be durable and changeable; Seven Gables is an excellent example. Dave Martel: I know a person to talk to, when he comes back from vacation in Costa Rica. Debra Lobsitz: Any discussion on closed-captioning?
David Moisan: It can be done, the video can be sent to a post house, but it’s been expensive and SATV has never been able to do that for any production despite our fervent desires. I am concerned that the Witch House doesn’t realize how complicated this project could be.
Debra: Must think about captioning and audio description as well. Jack: Look into accommodating deaf-blind. Doesn’t appear that a lot of thought has gone into the Witch House’s proposal. Debra: Most people don’t appreciate how complex this is technically; lighting alone could make or break the video.
Andy LaPointe: Back in 1999, when the House of Seven Gables hosted an anniversary celebration of the ADA, we had some sensitivity training and held a few meetings here. The tour guides should have experience in dealing with people with disabilities. Maybe Andy could meet with them?
David Martel: Yes, the narrative tour would have to be modified. Andy: We should all meet with them and contribute our expertise.
Jack: We need to approach the city and Salem Now and the Chamber and revisit the House of Seven Gables, the Witch House and other Salem attractions to make sure they are accessible and to get publicity for visitors with disabilities. We’re on the right track. If anyone hasn’t been there, they should go down to see the ramp. Jean Levesque: Any handrails? Jack & Dave Martel: Because of the grade and the width, no handrails were needed.
MAAB Update on “Sober House” in the Point: Jack: From Tom Hawkins of the MAAB: The “Sober House” in the Point has had trouble meeting accessibility requirements. The owner of the house promised to become compliant, but in recent weeks he was arrested and the occupants removed. The property is very unlikely to be used for the owner’s original purpose [a sober house] again. Tom St. Pierre [Salem building inspector] was asked about MAAB input: If there is a new owner of the property, they would need to start again with the MAAB from scratch.
Commission member in the Salem News: David Moisan was in the news once again, featuring his volunteer service for the Boston Marathon. Jack: Great picture and he learned how old Dave is! It highlights not only his work for the Commission but also for SATV and outside SATV. Congratulations all around from the Commission.
Andy: He’s a great ham radio operator!
Salem Common Playground: Jack: The Salem Common Playground is moving forward. There was a fundraiser held and $9,000 raised out of $150,000 needed. (They are said to have $26,000 so far.)
David Moisan: It was in the Gazette; the facility would be accessible but not completely due to space issues. The playground would be built on the footprint of the existing playground so a full ramp was not possible. Neighbors had been concerned that the playground would block their views of the historic district but the Salem Historical Commission didn’t agree with that.
Nothing was mentioned of the design of Steve Dibble that was turned down over the winter. Jack: They have a design now and the Historical Commission settled on a color scheme.
David Moisan: Do we have any contacts at all with the organizers [Parents United]. Jack: He does have the email address of one of the organizers. Charlie Reardon’s ophthalmologist is the husband of the chief organizer of the tot lot, Sarah Wheeler-Gaddipati. We want to have the right information so we can be most helpful.
David Martel: Something going on with the K of C building [on the Common]? Dave Moisan: Not in Salem. The Danvers K of C building will be demolished and the K of C will lease space in it. That was also my first thought when I read the headline in the Salem News.
Andy: Back to the playground. We were looking at fundraising for the playground a few years ago. There are organizations that would donate spaghetti suppers and the like. Is that something we want to do? Can we ask the Moose?
Jack: I hope this group is doing that. Personally, I’m standing back, though I want to and am ready to help. I haven’t gotten a lot of positive response. The group seems to have a handle on things so I must assume they have someone on board advising them. Fundraising is on them too. Andy: Why aren’t we involved? We are the disabled community.
David Moisan: This has been a sore point for me for a long time. Readers of my blog know that I’m not a fan of the neighborhood associations in Salem. I’ve said a lot of words about the Common neighborhood group. I don’t think the Salem Common group thinks we’re important. The Gazette article quotes Gaddipati as saying that “one parent of a special needs child requested access”, when it is an open secret that the Harrises (Jack and Donna) have two special needs girls that would benefit from the tot lot. I think the worst of the Common Association and Parents United. I ask Jack: Why aren’t we talking with them? The tot lot is not only for the Common association but for all visitors and residents in Salem.
Jack: We’ve gone as far as we can with this. We stuck out our hand and made our gesture of help. I learned from the K of C deal that we can jump up and down too much. We’ll make our contacts and see what else we can do. Andy: Are we giving up? I’m willing to do more than my share. If Peabody can do it, why can’t we?
Jack & Mike Sosnowski: It’s not “we”. It’s them [Parents United]. There are many competing groups in the Common, including the Salem Common Neighborhood Association, Parents United (Gaddipati’s group) and us.
Mike S: The playground evolved into a handicapped-accessible facility because I thought that would be the best way of getting funding. Today it’s much more difficult. I have been trying to get it funded through CDBD because it benefits the entire city, its visitors and residents.
Jean L: 25% of students in our schools are special ed. Can we invite Parents United to one of our meetings? Jack: I’ve been trying. As Councilor Sosnowski points out, what’s the deal; who’s involved? We need to somehow coordinate this; we can do it but it will take effort.
Willows Bathrooms: Jack: The new restrooms at the Willows are done and apparently very nice. This was a very very old issue for the Commission. People should take a look at the new facilities. [um, OK—DM]
Mike S.: Not my ward, but the parking meters at the Willows have been a success for merchants. But what of some seniors that can’t pay for the lot? Debra: Could the Council do something?
Transportation: Jack: There needs to be a better transportation system around Salem, especially when the new pier come and cruise ships arrive. Mike S: There needs to be bus service to the college. Dave Moisan: The college already has a shuttle service by Cavalier from the college to Salem Depot and it is open to Salem residents. Jack: I’m not sure the buses are accessible. Dave Moisan: I had thought by federal law all buses for use in commercial service needed to be ADA compliant and had lifts. Jack: I’m familiar with the college’s service but we still need expanded service.
Dave Martel: Will the bowling alley behind Canal ever be a train station? David Moisan: There was a proposal a few years ago [around 10 years] to make South Salem [the old alley] a flag stop on the commuter rail, servicing Salem State. That project is not on any capital plan I’ve seen. There was much opposition in the neighborhood due to parking issues. It’s not on any list to do. Don’t hold your breath.
Commission on Deaf and Hard of Hearing:
Debra L: I’m working on a group, the Access Workgroup, an offshoot of the state advisory board of the Commission of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. I’m working on best practice papers that tell you how to make a venue accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. I want to draft a letter to the municipal commissions on disabilities listing our services and resources. I put together a packet of information explaining how to get services like CART and ASL interpreters from the Commission of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Commission: What is CART?
CART has a trained operator transcribing speech using a stenograph machine, much like a court reporter’s. It is a live service. [It’s very similar to closed captioning, except the captions are displayed on a projection screen on site—DM.]
Jean L: Can anyone get services? Yes, but CART is expensive. You need to reserve them in advance.
Andy: Is the information packet in Braille? Debra: If I send the information electronically, can you Braille it? Andy: Not a problem. [Debra and Andy sort out various technical details on the documents—DM]
Debra: I can put together as many of these packets as we need. These folders include information that’s already on the MCDHH website. They don’t include best practices because they haven’t been written yet. They should be ready in about a year, and they will be published online.
Mike S: What about computer speech recognition? Hasn’t it improved? Debra: Everybody always ask this; they have so much hope in the technologies. Human beings are still so much better at understanding speech than anything a computer can do. Jack: I have voice recognition software due to my vision impairments; it isn’t perfect. Verizon has had problems in the northeast because of our Boston dialect.
Debra: I get asked that question a lot; there are a lot of ads that hype voice recognition software. Under the best conditions, the best you can get is 85% accuracy. This is not great. Dave Martel: My ex-wife is a medical transcriptionist and has to enunciate very carefully; the system is trained for her voice.
Debra: Some people are easier to understand than others; the machines don’t deal well with this. Jack: Interpretation can be extremely expensive, especially as different communities of disabled people come out and ask for accommodations; ASL and CART is the most expensive of all, and a serious potential expense for the city.
Mike S.: We had a meeting where someone needed interpretation and it was an ordeal. Debra: The lead time on this is at least two weeks. If there is an ongoing situation that needs interpreters, CART or captions, you can set up a remote service which might be easier to arrange.
Jack: Captioning is available on TV’s but most don’t know it’s there. [There was a discussion amongst the commissioners of various technical details about captioning.] It’s a new frontier.
Old Business: Commission Office: David Moisan: A few months ago, Ken Bonnachi wanted to come back to the Commission to do the minutes and administer the office we want to set up [at the South Harbor Garage]. I’m very concerned because Ken appeared to be the champion of this proposal and what happens now if he falls out of the picture?
Jack: I don’t know. I have tried to reach Ken. His wife works at the Globe with its well-known financial troubles. We will move on. We will talk with Jason [the mayor’s chief of staff].
David Moisan: If it’s a good idea, it’s worth doing with or without Ken. But I don’t want to hear that Ken is driving the whole process and we can’t go forward. I’m very worried about being able to get all the things we need, from scratch, to have an office.
Jack: Ken is not driving things here; I was the one who wanted office space. I had discussed office space at the new senior center, and we had been promised it, possibly. Dave Moisan: It was speculative?? Jean L: We were talking about 120 Washington, but the lease is expiring soon and I don’t think the city was ever serious about giving us space there.
Dave Moisan: My concern is not the location, whereever it is, it is supplying and staffing and running the office. We won’t be sitting on milk crates and old boxes. Jean L: In good weather, we should go down to our existing office [at South Harbor] and look at it. Dave Moisan: We own a copier that we aren’t using and can’t get rid of, ever since we decided to lease our machines. That may be available to us. I floated the idea of getting the machine a year ago and SATV seemed responsive to the idea. But, that’s not the only thing we need!
Andy: We have money from last year’s access training? Jack: I will talk with Jason and push this harder. I talked with Mike also about getting funding from HP parking tickets as was discussed in previous meetings.
Andy: I had asked Linda Elworthy [former director of the Council on Aging] about having an office at the CoA due to our natural alignments and common interests with them. David: Agreed completely, but it’s just too speculative for me. I don’t take a project as a given until the construction trucks show up!
Jack: This doesn’t appear to be an unusual situation for most municipalities; we just need to work at it more. I think it will happen.
Housekeeping: Charlie will run next month’s meeting due to Jack’s medical procedure. He will provide information about the office. Jack will keep trying to reach Ken because he’s our preferred minute-taker. Dave Moisan: I want to make the meeting audio available on line temporarily until we get a permanent arrangement with the city. This will happen sometime in late May, after SATV gets a new network server.
Meeting adjourned at 5:45. Next meeting is May 19th, 2009, at the SATV offices at 285 Derby St.