Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Salem Commission on Disabilities: Following up

Market Basket handicapped lot rebuilt

On the Salem Commission on Disabilities, we move at a slower pace than we would want.  There are agenda items that stick around for years, problems that are never really resolved and other issues that recur again and again despite our best efforts.

This week, several items at our last meeting are actually moving forward with good news!

First of these is the handicapped spaces at Market Basket.  The spaces have flooded out in heavy rains.  Last week, the spaces were dug out and releveled.

Market Basket HP Lot work (1)

The end result.

In another development, my friend and colleague Andy LaPointe has good news:

Hello Friends and Commissioners.  I just got a message from the Mayor and she stated that the remaining $1,250.00 needed to launch Project Lifesaver has been committed.  Now, Salem will have that layer of protection needed to save those lives of people that wander and get into harm's way.

This is a great day....

As soon as the training has been completed, I will contact the media to bring proper media coverage...  I will bring you all up to date with any and all updates as soon as I receive it.


Project Lifesaver is, as Andy puts it, “LoJack for People”.  It’s a locating device that’s worn by those who may wander off by themselves, such as Alzheimer’s victims.  Local police that participate in the program have direction-finding equipment, just like LoJack, that helps them quickly find missing people who carry the device.

Andy’s been working hard on getting this established in Salem for quite a few years.  It’s rare that the Commission gets results so quickly, but it is much appreciated.  Andy is getting, and deserving, all our praise!

Salem Depot Design Plans Posted

Salem Depot parking lot, nearly full at 7:30 AM

The MBTA has released its design plans for Salem Depot.  I haven’t looked at them yet.

There will be a public meeting on the design next Tuesday, October 6th, 7 PM at the Carlton School.  I plan to be there.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tavern on the Square Proposed Sidewalk Changes


As discussed in the September Commission meeting, Tavern In The Square wants to have outdoor seating.  To do this and comply with state law, they need to take over the stretch of sidewalk in front of their business on Washington St.

This is the handout we were given at the meeting.  I’ve added the color notations.  The green lines are the paths of travel for pedestrians, wheelchair users and cane users down Washington St. from Front St. to New Derby St.  The red area is the section of sidewalk that will be blocked to the public when the restaurant is open.

As I explained at the meeting, I wouldn’t be concerned if it were the only outdoor seating in downtown. 

It isn’t. 

That stretch of Washington St. is congested with light poles, planters, sandwich signs and numerous other obstacles.  The restaurant on the north end of the block also has outdoor seating, though it’s set off to the side of Front St.

The area at Washington and Front St. is particularly congested, as is the sidewalk in front of Tavern in the Square where it branches off to the crosswalk (the circular area in the lower left of the map.)

Halloween is coming up and it is a worst-case situation for sidewalk passage around downtown.  I’m going to try to imagine it when Tavern in the Square gets its seating.  Up the street, Rockafellas has had outdoor seating for some time, and it’s been a problem on a crowded day, even though they have the widest sidewalk available anywhere downtown, much wider than the space Tavern on the Square has available.

Unofficial Minutes of the Salem Commission on Disabilities, September 2009


The regular meeting of the Salem Commission on Disabilities was held at SATV on September 15th, 2009.  Present:  Jack Harris, chair, David Martell, Debra Lobsitz, Jean Harrison, David Tracht, David Moisan, Jean Levesque, Michael Taylor, Andy LaPointe, Charlie Reardon, co-chair, Jean Levesque, Assistant ADA Coordinator and Mike Sosnowski, City Council Liaision.

SATV Audible Bulletin Board

Jack:  First, I apologize to Dave Gauthier for having him in the agenda as “Ron Gauthier”.  I’ve asked him to come and talk about the audible bulletin board that was on SATV.  I know Andy and Dave Moisan have been talking about this.

Dave Gauthier:  We have three bulletin boards, scrolling announcements that run on each channel 3, 15 and 16.  We used to videotape the announcements on Channel 3, and we had volunteers who would read each announcement to tape.  That tape was run as a program every week.

The problem we had with this is that we did this with older technology.  As we upgraded we found we couldn’t do this anymore.  Andy and I have been trying to come up with a temporary solution.  I’ve been talking with David Moisan, who does the IT work at SATV, about how to resolve this.  Dave and I are talking with the manufacturer of our system, Tightrope Media Systems, to see what they can do.  We’ve reached out to them but haven’t heard anything back yet.

I have no idea how hard it would be to do this;  I’m not a programmer.

Dave Moisan:  I’ve done a preliminary back-of-the-envelope calculation.  Everybody knows that software comes in version numbers, 1, 2, 3.  Windows is at 7.  Mac is at 10.  The highest level of function we need is a bulletin board option that offers a synthesized voice channel of the text information that goes into the system.  There are issues with audio since we broadcast TIC Network and we would have to sort those out.  If I recall, their bulletin board software is 4.8.  It isn’t a simple update that they can give to us in version 4.8.3.  It may be a version 5 or even a 6.  They may even have to put another category of (meta)data in there.

We have enough to do with them in getting our new computer to convert DVD’s into their system, without this.

I had the idea of taking the text data they already provide to get a voice along with the visual announcements.  It’s technically feasible for me to do it.  But it’s probably not smart for me to do this.  It’s not a good project for SATV to undertake right now.

Jack:  SATV was the only station to do this originally in 2000-2001. 

Is there anything the commission or the SATV board can do to contact the software vendor to ask them to support this?

Dave Moisan:   You can contact Tightrope.  I have contacted them on more than one occasion.  I would tell them this is an important area for them to look at.  With time, this could be easier for them to do.  It’s never the final word with this sort of software;  there is always something new we want.

Keep writing.

We have the individual pieces, oftentimes, but getting all these many components to fit together.  No one makes everything and oftentimes, no one makes the one thing you need.

Jack:  My hope is that we can somehow get across to them the importance of such a system.  And two, the feedback they may get knowing that there are people in their market who appreciate these features.

David G.:  You can contact Tightrope.  They’re very responsible.

Jack:  If we can keep the pressure up.  If new technology can come about that would make it possible to do these things, it would be good.

Andy:  Why is this so difficult.  Why don’t we have volunteers?  Why not a blank screen with voiceovers?

David G.:  Andy and I have discussed this.  We try to make our channel serve as many of the audience as possible.  A blank screen with audio would use up our resource.

I have a couple of ideas I’ve brought up to Andy:  Is it possible to use our software to output text announcements for people to read?  Or is it possible to get announcements to TIC Network to read?

Andy:  I’ve talked with Ron Bersani of TIC Network and I can see what they can do to help us.

David G.:  We could take selected announcements and read those.  Announcements that won’t expire for a few weeks.  Perhaps not every week, but every other week.  I think if I can get other staff involved, we might get something going, even if it’s only part-time.

Andy:  How can I help?

Jack:  Here’s my suggestion.  Ron Bersani and TIC would be something to explore.  Then your other idea of announcements every other week.

Andy:  It would be nice to come up with something. Salem has had its audible bulletin board on longer than in many other communities.  It’s not only for the blind, but it also benefits those who are multitasking and not able to pay attention to the screen.

Dave G.:  It will be up to Dave M. and Andy and me to figure out the easiest way to proceed.  I definitely want to speak with Mr. Bersani.  If that doesn’t work out, we’ll work on the other thing.

SATV is supportive of the disability community and of the Commission.  I’ll come back in a month.

Jack:  I have a guest next month;  come back in November.  If you can get some letters from the SATV board and the Mayor’s office to send to Tightrope to support this effort, it would be good.

I’ll leave you four to work out a meeting and I will thank Dave Gauthier for showing up.

Tavern in the Square (Old Business)

Jack:  Several of you have gone on a site visit of Tavern in the Square.  There’s a site plan in your packet.  We have a major problem.

As everyone knows, Tavern in the Square wants to establish outdoor seating outside the restaurant in the grass and the trees, at the corner of Washington and New Derby Sts.

Between that area and the restaurant, there’s a sidewalk that runs parallel to the building along Washington St.  To get their liquor license, they need to be able to have contiguous seating between the restaurant and the seating area, this is a state regulation.

The problem that the Commission runs into, that I have personally run into, is that when they block the sidewalk, you don’t have a direct path of travel.  Under the ADA regulations, there’s not a lot about this.  I have written to the MOD asking them to look at this.

If this were Hamilton or Wenham, Danvers or Peabody, it might not be a big deal but with a world-class city with thousands of tourists from all over the world, to put a barrier and obstacle with outdoor seating is a big deal.  They’re not the only ones who do this;  Rockafellas does, and Puleo’s does.  It’s like a maze!

Jean Levesque:  Are they saying the tables have to be on the sidewalk?

Jack:  To comply with state liquor laws, there has to be contiguous seating.  If you notice on the plans, if that sidewalk is blocked, there is another sidewalk that goes out and around.  My contention is that that route is not a direct path of travel and takes one away from the buildings.

Jean:  It’s not wide.

Jack:  No, it’s not.   Andy might attest to how difficult or challenging it may be to take that route.

Andy:  It might be difficult for those unfamiliar to Salem.

Mike S.:  The City Council wants to invite the Commission and others to speak about the impact that this would take.

Jack:  Personally, I will make clear, I am not against outdoor seating.  It would be an asset, particularly to this city, but this represents a barrier.  We talked about Rockafellas, and Essex St., some years ago.  We need a clear vision where we don’t block the direct path of travel, and that is up Washington St.

We also run the risk, I’ve said a thousand times, of someone coming in and filing a complaint about the path of travel and that could cost the city.

Andy:  We talked about this before:  Crossing Front St., from the bank, would be to go straight, and follow the walkway parallel to the building?

Jack:  You would take a right from Derby to Washington St, go straight and cross Front St.

Andy:  I’m trying to envision this:  The new path, is it ADA compliant? 

Jack:  It is physically ADA compliant;  the sidewalk is wide enough, the slope is right, etc.  The part that is not compliant is that the [alternate path around the bus shelter] is not the direct path of travel.

Andy:  I prefer the direct route.  People from all over the place come to Salem and talk about Salem, if you come to the lunchroom of the Carroll Center.  Someone who is blind and a cane user can run into serious difficulties.  They could get sighted assistance, but lots can happen.

Jack:  Talking about people in motorized chairs, canes, moms with carriages.  [Dave Martel:  emergency personnel]

Jean Harrison:  What about the incline at the corner?

Jack:  They’re taking the curbing out and grading it to level [at the corner.]

As I understand from Councilor Sosnowski, the Commission will be formally asked to attend a meeting about this sometime in the future.  I’ll let people know as soon as I get the invitation.

Jean L.:  As Councilor Sosnowski says, that comes under the jurisdiction of the SRA.   There’ll be 20-22 tables that’ll be serviced from the restaurant when it’s open.  Will the sidewalks be closed?

Jack:  Yes, the sidewalk will be closed to the public per state law.  Issue is that when the sidewalk is blocked, there is not a direct path of travel.

Jean L.:  The sidewalk becomes part of the restaurant when it is in use?

Jack:  Yes.  Mike, does that become technically the property of the restaurant when it’s open?

Mike S.:  That’s never been determined.

Charlie:  Is that sidewalk to belong to the restaurant year round?

Mike S.:  I’m not comfortable with handing them city property to get a liquor license.

Jack:  Not necessarily to defend Tavern in the Square, but they are the only ones to go through the paperwork to do this.  Others have just thrown their tables out on the sidewalk.  I give them credit.

Andy:  We went to some other licensing board meetings with another restaurant and I had trouble walking through there.  It’s still there.  There are quite a few incidents I have made known to the board, but they’re still there.

Jack:  Was there an ordinance on outdoor seating?

Mike S.:  There was a jurisdictional war over this that was not decided.

Jack:  I’ll let everyone know.

David M.:  Brief comment;  I’m not going to get into what Tavern in the Square is doing specifically, but I took pictures at the site.  I came there from the north.  There’s another restaurant on the corner of Front.  There’s a bottleneck there where you can go straight up Washington, or take a right to the bus shelter.  There’s another intersection on the sidewalk further down where they will block off.

I miss the direct path of travel, but there’s a lot of street furniture on that stretch of Washington St.  A lot of people are coming and going from  Front St., and the other bottleneck further down at New Derby.  Tavern in the Square could do everything right, but there’s still a bottleneck.  We know well Front St. is a perennial problem.  They have to fit in to our downtown and that’s the real problem

Salem Willows Bathrooms (Old Business)

Jack:  The bathrooms at the Salem Willows were vandalized.  A portapotty was torched, and an excursion boat was broken into.

Jean S.:  The new bathrooms were a great improvement.

Jack:  Jean Harrison and I have noted the toilet paper holders are too far from the toilets.  We hope this is fixed when the vandalism is fixed.

Market Basket T Stop (old business)

Jack:  Jason and I have been working on having the T stop at Market Basket directly.  We are hopeful this will happen before the first snow

Project Lifesaver

Andy:  We’ve gotten $450 towards Project Lifesaver.  We are going to the Rotary Club to close our funding gap.  Once done, John Jodoin of the Salem Police Dept. will write a letter of intent to the company.  And training will be arranged.  We have money from Dominion and the Trust Board, and we are closer.

Charlie:  What do they need?

Andy:  $1200.  There are more calls I need to make

Four First St.

I talked to Tom St. Pierre about this, and to Jason, and we are keeping on top of the situation

Jean L.:  Was a letter sent to the company?

Jack:  Yes

David Martel:  I have been keeping people in my complex updated.

Salem Common Playground

Jack:  There was a request of $30,000 towards the Salem Common Playground?

Mike S.:  This is not from the city, part of it came from the Salem Common Neighborhood Association.  This was just a formality;  it’s a done deal.

Jack:  I’ve looked at the regulations.  The only regulation regarding accessible playgrounds is path of travel;  you must be able to get to them.  But there’s nothing about the equipment itself.

I’ve talked with Tom St. Pierre about this and I have suggested that 25% of the play area, one or two pieces, should be made accessible to the disabled.

Accessible structures do tend to be safer for children than regular playground structures.  We want to get Parents United to go for it on that basis.

MAAB Bypass Road (old business)

Jack:  You have a packet about the bypass road bike path issue.  The interesting part is, this decision is coming from the counsel at MassHighway and not by the project manager.  Hopefully this will get resolved.

Sober House (old business)

Jack:  The MAAB has taken jurisdiction of this matter and ordered any tenants in the second floor to move out (he wasn’t supposed to have tenants, but advertised on Craigslist.)  The owner now wants to make this into a single family house.  We have to look very closely at the letter of the law.  There are two businesses on the first floor that are not accessible, which the MAAB has also taken jurisdiction on..  I talked to Tom St. Pierre and not heard from him.  There was a fine hearing last month and the owner was given one month to comply.  They won’t give him a break the next time.  The building department is keeping a very close watch.

Lyceum Renovations

They didn’t trigger the 30% rule and they didn’t trigger the $100,000 amount.  The only work was on the first floor and the only change was to rebuild the ramp in the rear of the building.  They asked for a variance for the front door.  I suggested they get a portable ramp for the front door and an automatic door opener.  The variance was accepted.  The Lyceum doesn’t have to follow our recommendations but they were strongly suggested to.  It will open this week and I will check them out myself.  They’ve been very cooperative.

Market Basket Parking Lot HP Spaces

Jack:  The MAAB has been getting complaints about water puddling in the handicapped spaces.  Someone complained to the MAAB and I have been in touch with their real estate person who assures me they will repave and set the pitch so that water trains off.

Formal Interpretation of  CMR 521-22.2

Jack:  Tom St. Pierre asked us to interpret the required width of sidewalks based on the problems we had at Marlborough Road.

This is very timely as I just got the completed project plans for the Bridge St. reconstruction project.

Jack:  The width is 48 inches for compliance.   The absolute minimum width is 36 inches.  This does not include the width of the curbstone itself.

Mike S.:  That’s a very important point.

Rt. 107 Highland Ave. (new business)

Jack:  There are finally audible signals at Wal-Mart. Charlie and Andy can elaborate:

Charlie:  We went down there to check the timing.  One thing we found is the crosswalks are not straight.  One curbstone is offset from the one across the street.

Andy:  That’s ok if the audible beacons are located at the curbstones and they are at a reasonable volume level.  This is Highland Ave.

We had a problem with Ravenna Ave.:  There were a lot of complaints with the audible signals so they turned them down.  That’s a waste of taxpayer money and does no one any good.  Jack, can you write a letter to MassHighway asking that the audible signals be turned up in volume?

Andy:  Most of Highland Ave. is not residential.

Andy:  The ones by Wal-Mart have a tactile strip, and you can get to them, but the locator beacons aren’t loud enough.  The state department has trouble with the levels.  I talked with Sue Cranney (you remember Sue?)  She suggested writing Dave Knowlton.

Jack:  I talked with him this morning.  He suggested talking with Don Giardi about the levels.  The road does belong to the state, but it, like the T station, it’s not clear on exactly who is responsible.

We were going to ask Tom Muxie to come out and check the pole placements and the walk buttons on the poles.  Regulations only say the poles be “reasonably placed”.

Charlie:  Tom’s in a wheelchair so he’ll be able to tell us if he can reach the buttons on the pole.

If I get stuck on Highland Ave., there’s no way in God’s green Earth, I’m going to be able to cross the street with traffic.

Jack:  When you hit the button to cross the street, the law says you have the time and right of way to cross no matter how long it takes.

Andy: There’s a law against robbing banks, too.

Hawthorne Hotel Parking Lot (new business)

Jack:  The hotel is restriping their lot.  A suggestion was made, a great one I thought, that they lay a stripe down marking the sidewalk area.  They did so and I give them a lot of praise.  There was a letter from the community praising them for doing that.

But something not so good:  At their other lot at Essex and Union St. (across the street from the hotel), there isn’t a curb cut at the sidewalk.  There’s a curbstone and a phone pole.  You can’t use the sidewalk unless you go around.  I can’t imagine why they did this.  I alerted Jason to this and like the leech I am I will hang on him until this is fixed.

Talking Books Demonstration (other business)

Andy:  Couple of toys I have.  First thing I have, is two different reading devices.  The first one is from National Library Services, free to the blind and print-handicapped.  These replace the old cassette machines.  These use cartridges.  The cartridges plug in and there are voice prompts.

There are braille symbols on the buttons and buttons for bookmarks, playback, fast forward, speed and volume.   A pause button, a backup (rewind) button,  keep your finger on it and it goes to the next chapter.

It has a very good voice.  Only problem is there are only 50 books, though there are more every time.  National Library Services has a download service for computer users.

The book reader has a slot for a flash card, and a remote controller for people who need alternate controls.

There is a headphone jack as well.  Any questions?

Jack:  They’ve come very quickly.  I talked with Andy about his and signed up on a waiting list and got it right away!

Andy:  This device is free.  They’re phasing out cassettes.

The next device is the Victor Reader.  This is not free. It’s smaller and you may not hear it as well in this demonstration.  It works like a computer;  it connects to your computer with a USB port and you transfer files to it like a flash drive.

You get the books in ZIP files and they’re specially encoded;  you can’t play the files in an MP3 player.  You hit buttons on the keypad—1,4, 6—to get individual folders to play.  [sound of Reader reading a chapter.)

You can buy books from to work with this;  pretty much anything.  Some books are read by the author, others not.  You can also set bookmarks and highlights;  you can list bookmarks.

Jack:  Big question.  How much?

Andy:  $325.  This is life changing.  It has headphones.  It has a 1” external speaker which sounds great.  You can download podcasts.  You can download a Braille file and it will be transcribed to voice.

You can hit a key—7—and something to search for and it will search through your text book or Braille book for the terms.

[inaudible]:  How do we get the free reader?

Andy:  Call the Perkins Library, 1-617-924-3434 and get an application to join the library service and get one of these machines.  Just keep in mind that the inventory of books is very low, it’s a new system.

The Victor machine is made by Humanware, a Canadian company.  1-800-722-3393.  This is one of the best investments I ever made!  You can also take customized notes, on say a textbook.  I can literally put a thousand books on there and search them.

Jean L.:  Any charges for the books?

Andy:  National Library Service books are free.  Downloaded books from them are also free and don’t need to be returned.  You can put as many books as you want on an SD card.

Another device to demo:  This is a thing I think is very valuable for the average person:  Sierra Systems KeyRinger.    This is a key locator.  Nothing better.  $20 for a pair.  Push the button, and the other end, attached to my keys, will beep for 30 seconds until I shut it off.

I have a big yard.  I use these on my deck.  It’s saved me hours going on my deck.  It’s fun when there are three or four of these going off all at once.

This is great for any blind person who needs a locator.  One end could go on the fridge, and the other end on your keys, your remote, etc.

$20 and call 1-800-776-4888.

It’s weather resistant;  I’ve had it in the rain.  It’s advertised as being able to be run over by a truck;  someone dropped one in a field in the rain.  They found it and it worked.

Andy:  Questions?

Jack:  Ever take the sailing course again?  No?  We’ll see you taking the sailing course again with Maureen.

Jack:  Next meeting is October 20th.  There will be community meetings on the city’s five year plans.  I have invited Jane Guy to come.

I cannot be there;  there is a statewide transportation conference that I have been invited to, so Charlie will chair the next October meeting.

Charlie:  Anything to do with the RIDE?

Jack:  Yes, this will be part of the meeting.

Mike S.:  What about the tourist trolleys?  Are they accessible?

Jack:  I did witness the Salem Trolley pick up two disabled individuals.  They got on board and hopefully had a good trip.

Thanks very much and see you in October.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Salem Healthcare Vigil


I recently attended a healthcare vigil in Salem sponsored by  People were encouraged to read health care horror stories, of which there has been no shortage.  I certainly could have told stories about my own care, and that of my late mom, but it was only an hour-long event.

Here’s what I said that night:

I belong to a minority group.

I am disabled.

I’m in a minority group anyone can join.  All it takes is an accident, or bad news from the doctor.

I’ve seen this happen in my own family.  The Salem Commission on Disabilities has seen this happen to families over and over.

If you become disabled, you will probably be destitute.  Your life just changed.  To get help, you’ll likely lose or give away everything you’ve worked for in your life.  If you apply for SSI, you may have a long wait to be approved.

Sarah Palin makes a lot of fuss about her youngest, Trig, with Downs Syndrome and how he would fare with those so-called “death panels”.

Sarah has no need to fear that.  She is well-off and has considerable resources to take care of Trig.

But many families with disabled children don’t have those resources.  Their life is often changed for the worse.  Many such families love their disabled, special-needs children very much.  But it’s still very stressful, and hard on them.

We expect people to overcome their disabilities, overcome their illnesses, and overcome the insurance companies.  The Commission has seen this over and over.

70 percent of us are unemployed.  Employers aren’t willing to hire us because they’re not sure we can work but more importantly because we represent a cost on their health insurance.

Our future as people with disabiliites—all people with disabilities, not just the photogenic ones that go on TV or People magazine to look heroic and inspirational—depends much on reforming our health care system. 

It’s broken for us and all Americans.  It’s got to change.

Salem News story

Salem Gazette story

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11

Flag Towers Memorial, originally uploaded by dmoisan.

I've stayed away from the anniversary coverage of 9/11. It's an event Americans could not forget, it's a demanding--and tramautic--memory for many people.

But here is an image I commissioned for my friend Leo Jodoin when he marked the first anniversary of 9/11.