Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

bewitchedtree, originally uploaded by dmoisan.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Salem City Hall Elevator Dedication

Senator Berry with Mayor Driscoll

Salem City Hall finally has an elevator!  We saw the elevator under construction when the Commission attended Mayor Driscoll’s proclamation of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act this past summer.

Here is the ceremony:

And here is a walkthrough of the new elevator. Notice that there are two elevator doors, as you sometimes see in hospitals; one door covers the ground floor from the sidewalk while the other is at the level of the existing ground floor at City Hall.

This is "The Whirlybird", the old chairlift on the front staircase into the Council Chambers:

The Whirlybird at Salem City Hall

Beth Rennard, our city solicitor, used this lift every day.

She won’t miss it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Haunted Happenings Grand Parade Tonight!

It’s our yearly ritual, and mine, the 2010 Haunted Happenings Parade.  Once again, I will be working at SATV to broadcast and webcast the parade.  I will be posting pictures as we set up for the day.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Charlie Baker, Moral Auditor

Salem office,  Department of Transitional Assistance

A few months ago, Charlie Baker, the Republican candidate for Governor, proposed his “Baker’s Dozen” for cutting costs.  I’d read about it in Blue Mass Group when he first proposed these measures but initially I didn’t take them seriously;  candidates say things or are reported to say things all the time that turn out to have too little context to reasonably comment on.  Besides, most day to day political coverage is noise.

I reread the post on BMG that first caught my attention, Charlie Baker proposes new government bureaucracy to approve lifestyles

Charlie Baker’s Dozen ideas to eliminate government waste is still on his campaign’s website so I’m going to assume it is on his ongoing platform.

Point 8:

8. Conduct forensic financial analysis for benefits eligibility – Between $10M to $20M in savings
State agencies need to consider more than just tax returns when determining individuals’ eligibility for public benefits and services. A lifestyle analysis quantifies the living expenses of individuals - such as credit card bills, recreation activities, auto loans, grocery bills - and compares the expenses to known sources of income. If the money spent during the period analyzed exceeds the known funding sources, it is quite possible that there is another source of income. The state should conduct this analysis on a pilot basis for a few services – such as public defendants and public housing - before individuals are deemed eligible for the benefits.

Baker’s idea came from, amongst others, Dan Winslow, former legal counsel to former governor Mitt Romney in an article for Commonwealth Magazine.  Beyond Red and Blue wrote about this in 2008:

For state entitlement eligibility, a simple LAF checklist can consider discretionary spending such as whether persons or households seeking free or discounted state services own property, have credit cards, hold bank accounts, or own a new car, multiple cars or a boat. The checklist could also consider whether an individual purchases cable television, Internet service, or premium cell phone service and whether they buy airline tickets, possess illegal drugs, or smoke a pack of cigarettes daily.

On the face of it, Baker’s proposal seems to be just a financial audit, like the ones Social Security does on SSI recipients.  But Winslow’s association with the Romney administration makes me recall Eric Kriss’ infamous “Givers and Takers” speech of a few years back.

With that history I don’t think this provision is a financial audit.

It is a moral audit, and Baker wants to be our moral auditor.

Many, many people in the disability community, and outside it, get public housing, health insurance and food benefits.  There are people who may get any of the three without ever having set foot in a welfare or Social Security office.

There are working people who live in Pioneer Terrace, a much-maligned housing project near Salem State.

Many will be affected.  Charlie Baker, in his ads, brags about firing 5,000 state employees if he’s elected.  How many people would we need to staff his new moral auditing division?  How many of the 5,000 would need to seek public assistance?

David, of BMG, makes the point that “lifestyle analysis” requires expertise and not cheap at that, based on how the IRS goes after people with yachts.  I think he’s wrong on this point, though. 

The Baker administration, if elected, wouldn’t go to that length;  It would outsource the new agency to one of the Indian or Chinese shops to which most of our customer support calls end up.  The outsourcers would get a directive to flag as many people as possible for fraud for the cheapest possible price, working through their backlog as fast as they can, however they can.

Someone in public housing would get a thick envelope and a threatening letter, and a request to account for all the spending they made over the past five years, say, all in longhand with a 10 day filing deadline.  A representative would follow up with questions, all along the lines of:  “Why did you get that?”,  “Why do you need a computer—can’t you go to the library?”, “Why did your son pay for dinner out?”, “Why aren’t you getting a better job?”, “Why are you still in public housing?”

And then the eviction notice would come.  Maybe there’ll be an appeal process.  If it’s funded.

I think Winslow’s, and Baker’s mindsets are such that they would not stop at a merely fiscal audit, even if they might not say it out loud.  Certainly, Romney only disavowed Kriss because he made his own reputation look bad;  Romney hired him, as he did Baker and Winslow, and he damned well knew what they were all about.

It’s a “small government” nanny state and it will demean many people in the disability community.  Many of them already fear they are somewhat “less worthy” than an able-bodied person.

If we vote for Baker, we may be telling them, as well, that because they are often on the wrong end of the economic scale, they should not be allowed to manage their own lives either.

There will be the stories that come out with this, like the little old lady who gets audited (“But I voted Republican!”  “Oops, our bad!”)  or the disabled war veteran (“Say, son, you sound like you’re old enough to enlist.  Don’t you love your country?  Why aren’t you in the service?”  “Um, ah, err…”  I’d love to hear that one.)

But first, the dignity of the state’s disabled community will be degraded.  And a lot of money will be spent.  Baker won’t care, as long as he’s spending it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Restaurant at Jail to open next week

The Great Escape at Salem Jail

Reported at Salem Patch, the restaurant at the Jail, The Great Escape, will open Monday.

Future site of the restaurant in the Jail

When I saw this in the open house, I had wondered if this would be the restaurant.  I seem to have guessed right.

Despite the guy from Northfields and the associated controversy over the green space, a restaurant operator came through after all. 

I’m not sure how they’ll do long-term, and I don’t know if I’ll afford to eat there myself, but I wish them luck.  Hats off to New Boston for their tenacity in seeing this through.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Not Remembering 9/11

Flag Towers Memorial, Salem, 9/11/2002

As we mark the ninth anniversary of Al Qaeda’s attack on September 11th, I’m proud of this artwork.  I produced it for my friend Leo Jodoin and his TV show, Salem Now, which I have been a crewmember for the 13 years it’s been produced.  It features the improvised, informal, but now established, 9/11 memorial at Market Basket.

I’m proud of my art.

But I’m not proud of what has become the fetish of worship and hysteria that now defines September 11th.

Over a very long summer, we have been hearing about the imam who plans to build a Muslim cultural center a few blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center.  His plans have gone through and before a large number of boards and commissions in Manhattan, as any other project would.

In Salem, I know this process well, and the Commission on Disabilities is one of the participants in the rituals that developers go through to get things built.

The imam’s project has gone through all the hoops and hurdles in Manhattan.  But a lawsuit from one of the relatives of a 9/11 victim is reportedly pending.

To say what I think of this, I need to go back to last spring, when the developers of the Salem Jail wanted to turn the greenspace fronting Bridge St. into a parking lot as a condition for a restaurant on the premises.  There was a heavily attended meeting about this that saw nearly all of the neighborhood groups come to testify.

I wrote about what happened in that meeting but I’ll repeat it:  A guy from Northfields spoke out against the proposed lot.  But more than that, he went into a long speech about what kinds of development would be suitable in the neighborhood.

My neighborhood.

And he told us that the elderly complex—my building—would not be in favor of commercial development.

I was livid.   Beyond mad.  Angry.   Pissed.

The Northfields guy was telling me and my neighbors what was right for us.  I can’t even speak for my neighbors!   We have, in fact, been living next to a commercial office building for many years.

Now, how am I going to tell that imam that he cannot build his center because I believe Muslims brought me pain on 9/11?   I don’t consider myself to have any standing;  as of now, it’s not even clear if the courts will give standing to any relative of a 9/11 victim to bring suit against the organization that plans to build there (a former clothing store that is not even within sight of the WTC block.)

I didn’t like that guy from Northfields presuming to speak for me or my neighbors, so why should I have a position on that cultural center?

There is no rule of law that could enable me to go to Manhattan and stop this.  It’s gone through all the permitting down there and that should be that.  The First Amendment has no asterisks saying “except some religions we don’t approve of”.  (Catholics who oppose the cultural center might want to look at their own history in America first.)

In the next town over, there is a political activist, famous for her anti-tax, limited-government advocacy.  She writes for the local daily, whose editorial board shares her opinions.  She has spoken out against the cultural center (it is not a mosque.)

Does she really think that is in her limited-government bailiwick, to just reach out and tell a municipality in another state even that they must deny a project just because she doesn’t like it?  That is by no means small, limited government!

If she were consistent with her desire for small government and private-sector development (and the imam runs a private organization), she’d advocate for someone like the Koch brothers to buy the Ground Zero site, an enormous parcel of land that much of Salem would fit into, and turn it into a martyr’s center to the sacred 9/11.  (Newt Gingrich also wants to “federalize” the site to create such a memorial.)

There is already a 9/11 church at the site, and their pastor has the hate for Muslims. 

And that is the other reason I feel shamed this day.

For some years now, the Republican party has become more radical and more religious, throwing many moderate conservatives, particularly those in the Northeast, out the door.

They have all but encouraged Christian fundamentalism.   This atheist does not see a lot of distinctions between Al Qaeda’s apocalyptic Islamism, and what Christianism is said to be by many fundamentalist pastors.

Pat Robertson said that “9/11 happened because America looked away from God”.  Was God rooting for Islam that day?

A few years ago when Janet Jackson “performed” at the Superbowl, one columnist from a Seattle paper said that “Al Qaeda had a point!”  We fear jihad, but we now have our own “prayer warriors” in Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, Fist of the North Star.

We all were happy to see the Taliban in Afghanistan, and their theocratic government, brought down.  But I’ve come to think that, to prominent Republicans and Christians, amplified by Fox News, the only sin that Al Qaeda and the Taliban have committed is, is doing terrorism in Allah’s name rather than in Jesus’.

I have recalled General Boykin’s words:

.' Well, you know what? I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."

And that man was a high-ranking officer in our Army.

We even have our own apocalyptic movement in America.  Osama Bin Laden had to inherit his wealth, but Tim and Beverly LaHaye, authors of the “Left Behind” series, have made their millions convincing people that God will take his own people and leave the world to rot for Satan—and that a good Christian should wish for it!

Afraid of violent Islamism?  From what rhetoric I’ve seen over the past few years, we have more to worry about from our own people.  The Tea Party, whose copies of the Constitution only seem to have the Second Amendment in them, loves its armaments.  Prayer warriors, backed up by Browning, Smith and WessonSomeone flew a plane into an IRS office in Austin, Texas.

If Tim McVeigh bombed the Murrah Building in OKC today, rather than in 1995, I am certain people would be excusing what he did.  “It’s too bad about that dead baby but her mommy shouldn’t have worked for the government!”  McVeigh himself would be a prisoner of conscience.  Not only would the Tea Partiers call for his freedom but also not a few editorial boards, perhaps even our activist next door.

All because Bin Laden happens to be a Muslim instead of a Christian.  I wonder if he’s for limited government in that world caliphate he wants to build?  If anyone is concerned about the moral state of the world, he certainly is!  He could convert to Christianity tomorrow—as extremely unlikely it may be—and he’d fit right in with some!

That’s why I don’t want to “commemorate” or “remember” or “memorialize” this day.  We put Japanese-Americans in camps in the name of December 7th, Pearl Harbor and we were wrong—and we knew it.  I don’t want to see what we’ll do against Allah—or for Jesus—in the name of 9/11.

UPDATE:  I haven’t read Dinesh D’Souza’s book The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, or heard of it before this week, but Andrew Sullivan reviewed it for Powells a few years back.  I’d still like to find it at the library and read it, but from what I read from this review, and other blogs I’ve seen online about D’Souza on his most recent book, he’s virtually shaken hands with Bin Laden, and he recommends his ideological peers in the Republican party do the same.  That has only reinforced my commentary.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Salem State University

Salem State University postcard front


I got this postcard in the mail over the weekend.  Governor Patrick signed the legislation Wednesday that made Salem State a university.  The bill had passed a week before the signing so there was enough time to get the cards out.

Changes at the Commission

Mayor Driscoll with the Commission on Disabilities, with our former chairpersons, Jack Harris,  and Andy LaPointe, and new chairperson David Tracht (back turned to camera), in front of the new elevator at City Hall.  Also here were David Martel (behind Mayor Driscoll), Jean Harrison and Charlie Reardon (in red.)

Mayor Driscoll with the Commission on Disabilities, with our former chairpersons, Jack Harris,  and Andy LaPointe, and new chairperson David Tracht (back turned to camera), in front of the new elevator at City Hall.  Also here were David Martel (behind Mayor Driscoll), Jean Harrison and Charlie Reardon (in red.)

The Commission on Disabilities is going through our summer break, and meeting again in September with a different organization.

Jack Harris, after being on the Commission for over 20 years, is hanging it up at the end of the year when his term expires.  He announced his decision in June and called for an election of two co-chairs at our July meeting.

Here are his comments, from the meeting video:

I've known Jack for a very long time.  His two little girls have virtually adopted me!  Like many people who have served long terms in a job, it is inconceivable to think of his leaving.

But 20 years is a long time and I don't begrudge him.

Jack represents 20 years of very hard work to make the Commission as successful as it has been.   This is a position more for duty and love, than it is for prestige.

I've often wondered how I would fare as chair.  It's something I have to think about as I start my second term on the board.

I didn't nominate myself in the vote as I didn't feel I had enough seniority or experience, but as time  goes on, if I continue in the job, I have to prepare for that possibility, and prepare to step up in his position someday.

This is what I said to Jack when he announced his decision:

Our new co-chairs are David Tracht and Debra Lobsitz.  I and my colleagues will do our best to support them both.

Mayor's Proclamation of ADA Day

Mayor's Proclamation on ADA Day 


WHEREAS:  July 26th, 2010 marks the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and

WHEREAS: The ADA set regulations that have made it easier for people with disabilities to work, shop, go to school and enjoy recreational activities with their neighbors; and

WHEREAS:  Community leaders, businesses and government officials should celebrate the contributions that people with disabilities have made and continue to make to our community; and

WHEREAS:  We should acknowledge the rights of all persons with disabilities under the ADA and their daily activities, struggles and triumphs; and

WHEREAS:  The City of Salem is commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

NOW, THEREFORE, pursuant to the authority vested in me as Mayor of Salem, I, Kimberly Driscoll, do hereby proclaim Monday, July 26th, 2010 to be:


In the City of Salem, and urge all of the citizens of Salem to commemorate this anniversary by renewing our commitment to uphold the nondiscrimination principles of the ADA and to support them in their efforts to become as independent as possible.


Mayor Kimberly Driscoll

July 26th, 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

No New Bus Stop at Hawthorne Square


Highland Ave North at Market Basket

For some time, I and the Commission have been trying to get the MBTA to establish a bus stop inside the parking lot at Market Basket.  

Last fall, we thought we were making progress.

A colleague of mine got a response from Keenan’s office, quoted here:

In a message dated 2/1/2010 10:22:55 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, Lynne Montague writes:

Hi Rich,

I wanted to get back to you with the latest information provided by the MBTA on the Highland Ave Bus Stop.  John Matthew at RMD , Hawthorne Square Mgmt has withdrawn its proposal to build a new bus shelter as the company stated it could no longer justify the expense.  The company further noted that the path for the bus, that the MBTA had agreed to, was objected to by the neighboring shopping plaza.

Mr. Matthew said he would contact the MBTA if he learned anything new or if the management company wanted to make a new proposal.  The city of Salem has instructed RMD, Hawthorne Square Mgmt that the bus stop must be cleared of snow.

I will let you know if there is any additional information on this proposal.



Firstly, I’m uncertain as to what kind of expense is involved.  We never heard any kind of dollar figure;  was this to be an actual physical shelter?  I’d understood this would be just a bus stop in the vicinity of Market Basket.

Since I first drafted this post back in February, I've gotten some more information that puts a little light on this story.  The Commission got a copy of a letter to the Mayor's office from the MBTA, specifically from a senior planner/analyst:

The layout of this shopping center does not support a regular bus service. This facility is designed with a large parking lot, few walking paths, and multiple storefronts that would create conflicts between buses, autos, and pedestrians. With the present layout, there is no appropriate place for passengers to board, exit, or wait for the bus. We would be interested in discussing this situation with the management, owners, and/or tenants of Hawthorne Square to see if there are possibilities for making changes or additions inside the center which might create an appropriate bus waiting area area and safe path for the bus to drive through Hawthorne Square.

The Service Planning group is also concerned with the additional trip time a rerouting would impose on existing customers. We estimate that each customer trip would be lengthened by 4 minutes or mour if routed via the shopping center. Extending selected trips during weekday midday hours or on weekends could minimize the additional passenger-travel time, since there are fewer peak-period commuters who would be negatively affected by such an extension and delays from traffic are less severe.

Snow removal is a serious issue that affects the quality of a bus customer’s trip; ordinances vary by municipality. In general, snow removal on sidewalks or at bus stops is the responsibility of the abutting property owner.

The Route 107 corridor has never been quiet, except perhaps before I was born, but it is true that it has gotten more congested.  In fact, the T has had to run fewer buses with increased headways (80 minutes on weekdays) on the 450 and 456 routes due to heavy traffic on Highland Ave.

Ms. McCoy is also correct in asserting that the Hawthorne Square parking lot is not really laid out for pedestrians--there are no reserved pedestrian paths between stores.

This problem is much more than just one elderly person trying to get to the grocery store from the bus.

It's about how we have emphasized the personal car above everything and arranged our city planning around the car and its needs for parking at peak periods.

The only answer we seem to have is "more development".  While I (personally, not the Commission) cautiously favor the new Wal-Mart proposed on Highland Ave. (and disfavor Lowes), I'm not sure how this will help.

As it is, the Commission has de facto "adopted" Rt. 107, 1A, 114 and all the other entrance corridors in the city where pedestrians and people with disabilities travel. 

MassHighway has control over many of these corridors, so city councilors cannot do a lot.  Jean Pelletier and Jerry Ryan are the nominal councilors over Rt. 107's path;  I have not spoken to Jean but Jerry knows my thinking on this and we have spoken numerous times.

I recently had to contact MassHighway to fix one of the new audible signals (ironically near Market Basket).  After two months it's resolved, but someone needs to go out there to adjust its volume.

A call here, an email there, a tweak.  Until the next issue. 

Now, the talk of my state rep and my mayor is on casinos and pledges to improve 1A and 107, which will certainly serve the proposed resort at Suffolk Downs.

A tweak here, a tweak there.

People won't like this solution, but the community leaders in the region will have to push for the Blue Line to Lynn.  Just stand on the Lynnway near Wal-Mart or on Western Ave. past the bus depot and count how many buses with passengers go by.   It's more than you think.

With due respect to my colleague Rich, who never fails to give me a word against the city on this issue, it's a tough one.

And the Commission seems to be alone in fighting for this.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Salem Commission on Disabilities, Unofficial Minutes for June 2010

Elevator under construction at City Hall

City Hall elevator, under construction

Salem Commission on Disabilities Minutes for May 15th, 2010

The Salem Commission on Disabilities met at 4 PM on June 15th, 2010. Present were Jack Harris, chair, David Martel, David Tracht, Debra Lobsitz, Jean Harrison, David Moisan, Mike Sosnowski, City Council Liaison and Charlie Reardon, co-chair.

Jean Levesque is recovering from surgery. Andy LaPointe had a personal matter at home to attend to; Michael Taylor is having an accreditation review.

Old Business

Update on Jean.

Jack: He is set to go home soon, by Thursday the 17th. Michael says he’s doing very well. He’s being monitored, so he can’t go home yet. Jean expresses his gratitude at all the cards and well-wishes he has received. He hopes to be home soon.

Market Basket

Jack: I heard from John Matthews. I’m setting up a meeting with him, the mayor's office and the MBTA. Jennifer [his assistant] has offered to get the contacts for us; my contact at the T has moved on so I need to get a new contact. As soon as we get the meeting arranged, we can check off that one, we hope.

Salem Ferry wheelchair access

Jack: The Salem Ferry had a problem during the March storms. A section of pier, essential to wheelchair access, was damaged and needed to be replaced. Tom St. Pierre got in touch with me to let me know the part has gone out to bid to be fabricated. Service started on Memorial Day, and the part was to be replaced on the 15th.

Salem Ferry MBTA passes

Jack: The other part of this—I was at the BCS office in Lynn and had to go up the steps to the train station in Lynn. I fell on the steps--it was a very dark area and no yellow markings or stripes. Anyway, I spoke with a friend at the BCIL and he referred me a person at the T—Gary (can’t remember his last name)--and the T will do a site visit to see what needs to be done. I also got into some other discussions about the Ferry. We sent an email higher up to get T passes accepted on the Ferry. People may have seen a newspaper report about the lower fares this year.

Charlie: The wheelchair access repair? How is it going?

Jack: The MAAB was notified. It was hoped the wheelchair access ramp would be fixed by now but I understand it is a special part.

Jack: Please ride it if you can—it’s a great experience!

David Martel: The ferry's great.

Charlie: It is so smooth and comfortable.

Charlie: Andy and I were on the Ferry and were passing by Logan Airport. There was a very loud roar—a plane flew over us!

Jack: If the wind is just right and depending on the aircraft it is very loud.

Charlie: Andy's dog wanted to dig a hole through the bottom of the boat!

Jack: Some background—we (the city) own the Ferry (the boat) and a private operator runs it.

Jack: The city has been able to get Dominion to sell them the Blaney St. pier; the city is working on grant money to build a new pier for cruise ships there.

Charlie: There have been cruise operators there before.

Jack: But this project will create new opportunities for larger ships.

Jack: The city will need to open up its public transportation options. The Trolley does a good job. I was reading that a cruise ship in the new terminal could carry 600 tourists. That may be a bit much for the Trolley. We hope this opens up transportation options and the Commission will be there to support them.

Salem Common Playground

Jack: The playground is complete. It was a great dedication. Charlie was there.

Charlie: I was there, Jack and Donna (Harris) was there. We were there with Steve Dibble when he built it. We had a crew of over one hundred people for three days. The floor surface is deceiving, it's very soft. Kids fall down and literally bounce back up.

There are two regular swings and two swings for disabled children. It's a great project. A lot of people will enjoy it.

Jack: The group behind it is Parents United. I have to admit they did a great job. They are selling engraved bricks on a new walkway to donors if anyone is interested.

They are holding a dance fundraiser Friday.

They did a great job working with the city.

I also praise Steve Dibble for his efforts, and his sacrifices, to put this together.

But it’s done. We have been talking about this on the Commission for a long time.

Salem MBTA Station

Jack: There's been a little trouble implied by the press, where it was suggested the project was in turmoil. Governor Patrick says the project is still on track.

There was a newspaper article about Beverly’s depot project and the new scheme they will use to build it.

But again in my previous discussions about the Lynn station with my contact at the MBTA, if the Commission wants to look at any accessibility aspect of the Salem design, he will help us to review it.

I don't think it is so much the details that have been already proposed that are already on paper, but the details that have not been committed to, like the covered platform. The raised platform is supposed to be a done deal.

David Martel: Thy MBTA uses a common cost-saving cookie-cutter format for their designs. They used it to build a garage at the Museum of Science, but didn't look at the plans closely enough and had to cut concrete and rework several of the floors and it was very expensive. The cookie-cutter design is cost saving to them but if they make a mistake it costs.

Jack: I think most of what the city has asked for has been supplied. It is just issues like the covered platform. Because of where it is, it gets cold in the winter. I think we’re headed in the right direction. Whether this continues, we will wait and see.

Jack: The courthouse is exposed now. I have not heard a lot about it.

David Martel: We don't hear about it except from the newspapers.

Jack: They will try to get it all done at the same time. I don't think that will happen.

Charlie: They have underground parking, it looks like.

David Martel: Secured parking for prisoners, judges and such.

Jack: Sidelight on that, a new restaurant has been approved for the Jail. Open in August. There will be no parking on the green space--that has been settled. The space will be cleared as soon as the Bridge St. construction is complete.

Most of you are aware that Boston wants to raise its HP parking fines to increase revenue; that has been in the news lately. The mayor has been very vocal recently about parking.

MAAB Update

4 First St.

Jack: I spoke with Tom Watkins. The developers have been directed to make a curb cut by the MAAB. It should actually happen, within 45 days. I haven't gotten the ruling yet.

Parking Issues

David Martel: Woman got a ticket in Danvers for parking in an HP space. She claimed to be disabled but had no placard.

Jack: I guess she went there, twice, and the 2nd time around she parked in the HP space.

When she went into Superior Court to file suit, I guess the court waived the $250 filing fee but her husband couldn't represent him because he'd lost his law license. Point is, she got the ticket, she's got the right to fight it but probably she won't win.

Jean Harrison: Has there been discussion about the HP parking fines? The fines are too small in many communities.

Jack: There has been some discussion resurfacing about increasing our HP parking fines.

David Martel: Some communities like Saugus put the money back into enforcement.

Jack: Yes, Waltham. This funds an off-duty officer on behalf of the city's Commission to find violators. They found that that money comes back threefold what they pay the officer.

Jean Harrison: I have troubles regularly with people parking in the HP space that I need. Several times I have had to find an officer.

Jack: Any time you have problems like that, try to take down the license plate. The police are good about that.

The weird thing: If the woman in Danvers had parked in the fire lane it'd only be $20!

Jean Harrison: Exactly!

Jack: I’m revisiting certain parking lots in the city. One of the areas I have been revisiting is the 400 Highland Ave strip mall. There are spaces there for HP but they aren't appropriate. We actually sent a letter out to the owners and hadn’t heard back. Tom [St. Pierre] is going to follow up. Parking is an issue, is always an issue, will always be an issue, and won’t be resolved.

I want to reiterate quickly: As most know, if you have a HP plate or placard and use a metered space—no fee! If you park in the Almy's lot or the garage [both?], you need to pay. There are HP spots in those places but you need to pay.

A year ago, there was talk about putting a garage on 10 Federal to include HP parking. It didn't happen. There was an offer from Jim Hacker about putting a few HP spaces on the Church St. side of the lot. But there are no curb cuts in that area from the parking lot to the sidewalk; we were working on that but it hadn’t been resolved. There is a new crosswalk in the area—it’s just a matter of curb cut access to the lot itself.

David Moisan: Many people don't have pen and paper. But many do have cellphone cameras. You should use them. It would be a good idea to learn how to use your camera phone and how to send pictures in email to yourself, or transfer the files to your computer via Bluetooth. It’s good not just for parking violations but for curbs, broken sidewalks and etc. Just take pictures before the owner comes back so the owner won’t be tempted to confiscate or destroy your phone or camera.

Charlie: The police told us, never, ever, ever, get into a confrontation.

David Martel: Does the camera really help?

Jack: Oh, yes, the MAAB has gotten photos and taken action on a parking issue based on that.

Debra Lobsitz: I was at a meeting this morning on ways to get funding. The Watertown Commission on Disabilities gets funding from parking fines and puts the money back into communications and other projects to improve accessibility in the town of Watertown.

Jack: Absolutely true. As most know, when those fines are paid here [in Salem] it goes back to the general fund. But in Waltham and other towns, the city realizes there is revenue generated that can be used to improve access. We need to put a bigger bite into HP parking fines.

David Martel: Like Saugus as an example.

Jack: The hope, my hope, is that we can split the funding between the city, the Commission and an off-duty enforcement officer. At least that's what we want.

David Martel: My problem is with the temporary signs for street sweeping that aren’t taken down. People ignore them.

Charlie: They don't take the signs down when they're no longer in effect. They look at the signs three months later and ignore them!

Jack: Debra’s correct. Many commissions have done this and it is an option. Some communities have done that but the disability commissions have been isolated and many feel, unfairly, that the commissions are just collecting fines. But we have been very open and have great relationships with the rest of the city government.

Charlie: The city has been very responsive when we needed to put an HP sign up.

Jack: In fact, the Mayor's office has actually been suggesting these initiatives.

David Martel: We got a significant number of curb cuts installed in the city last year.

Jack: I've never seen as many wheelchairs and cane users as I have seen in the last few years.

New Business

Election of Co-Chairs

Jack: I have called for an election of two co-chairs. This is happening because my term is ending in January [2011] and I do not want to pick it up again. I’ve been here for 15 years. You will get a letter on this. It’s time.

I nominate David Tracht and Debra Lobsitz. You have the nomination sheets; I will print a ballot for next month.

You and all who have come before you have worked hard to bring the Commission to where it is today. On another note: I congratulate David Martel and David Moisan on their reappointments to the Commission.

David Martel: I really didn’t know what our group did until I joined it. This city is held to a higher standard--that came through very clearly during the access training last year.

Jack: The one thing I want to pass along and emphasize is our relationship with the city. Politics is a factor of course, as it is in everything, but if you can work around that you can get a lot done. I'm proud to have worked with various mayors, the licensing board, city inspectors and planners over the years.

David Martel: All of these commissioners now, when they do site visits, do these just for the point of catching mistakes people miss in design and planning, before they get stuck with the mistake afterwards.

Jack: We gave owners and stakeholders the opportunity to go to the AAB. Sometimes, they had a different take on the issue than we did and that is fine. I do the best I can--but people can see things differently. We want different perspectives.

David Martel: As a newly-disabled person, I’ve seen things a bit different. Entertainment is very important to us, as it is to able-bodied people.

Jack: I don’t want any of you to feel you aren’t a part of the Commission because you aren’t working actively on something at the moment. Your time will come. The mayor has recognized that each of you has skills that the city needs to make accessibility work and contribute to the success of the Commission.

Disability Policy Consortium

Jack: There will be a Disability Policy Consortium regional meeting. June 29th, 6 PM, Wilmington.

If people would like to go, let me have a sense. I gave a heads-up to Doug Bollen, if you want to go and there are enough of us we can get a right. I don't think MOD is going to do a regional meeting in the area anytime soon. It's a good time and place to network.

Another sidelight: In the Globe, this group submitted a lawsuit when the water emergency took place a month ago; there wasn't notice given to people with disabilities.

Let me know tomorrow--if there are enough people I will get Doug Bollen to get a van.

This would be a very interesting meeting for the Commission to go to.

4th of July Fireworks

Jack: Charlie and I have been talking about accessibility on the lawn at Derby Wharf. I mentioned it to the city a few years ago and also last year, but it was too late to get something done.

They're still trying to figure it out. But there will be an access aisle on Derby Wharf and an area on Derby St. for mobility-impaired folks.

What I told Ellen [Talkowsky]: Let's try this. It should be publicized on the city website. It's hard to judge exactly how much space we need. The other part of that: at the end of the night; I have two disabled daughters in wheelchairs. It's scary trying to get out of there at night with them. I've been in touch with the PD and asked them if there is a free officer, if they could assist people in getting out of there.

The other thing put in place: There'll be a portable toilet for wheelchairs. There are disabled restrooms on the park service space but we wanted another one.

Objective: We want to see how well this works. We don't want to use more space than we need nor make it inconvenient for non-disabled people. If people aren’t going to use the space, we don’t want to go to the effort.

Charlie: If they take a two-foot line from Derby St. to the lawn, the visitor’s center and fence on the left side and mark it off with chalk as for football lines, we can make a no-blanket no-sitting area.

Jack: That's not nailed down yet. There will be access to the field by whatever means, chalk, fencing, flags, etc.

Other Business

Thoughts on the Commission

David Moisan: I want to thank the Commission for three great years. I didn’t know it would be like this when I joined. Of course, I was associated with the Commission for years before [filming meetings]. When all you do is film things, and the neighborhood associations have asked me to film meetings, you get burned out when you can’t get involved. I had to join the Commission and it was the best thing I ever did.

I have the greatest respect for Jack and for his two daughters who are my virtual godchildren. I understand Jack and his need to step away from the job; it happens. I’ve thought hard about doing his job someday just as good as he has.

Jack: I’m not going away!

David Martel: It’s been great.

Jack: The most important thing, as David [Moisan] says, is all the people I have met and the people that many don't know, all the people in the disability community who I have met who have affected me personally. A gentleman in Topsfield worked for a box company for years. He is deaf--but no one knew it, he taught himself lip reading. It's an amazing story. Those are the kinds of stories, the kinds of individuals it is amazing to learn about. These are the stories we need to bring forward.

Charlie: Salem has gone forward in a lot of ways. It's inconceivable to be without the Commission.

Jack: 20th Anniversary of the ADA is coming up. It would be good if you could review the history, see what was supposed to happen--and what actually did! Not only for people with disabilities generally, but specifically in the City.

We have a long way to go.

David Martel: If people run into obstacles and roadblocks and we don’t bring attention to them, they don’t get noticed. Even the mayor notices this.

A-Frame Signs

Jack: The other thing that people should know: The A-Frame ordinances from last month were approved. Look at them and make sure they conform.

City Hall Elevator

Jack: Some people have not known this--it's quiet--the elevator at City Hall is very close to being completed. In a few weeks it will be up and running. They kept me very well updated.

David Martel: What about Morency Manor?

David Moisan: The new elevator appears to be in service, reopened very quietly. The variance work was not done. I understood it to be an extra relocated control panel on the first floor.

David Martel: Correct.

David Moisan: It was quietly turned on, I used it last week. They told us, they would open the elevator when some surface treatment, laminate or something was installed in the elevator. I’m not sure if that referred to the new panel.

They don’t tell me much of anything. I really wish they’d asked to do this when the construction crew was there—it would have already been rolled into the general construction and complete! The replacement for the old elevator is in design. When it gets torn out, I will ask the SHA if I can take pictures!

The meeting was adjourned at 5:21 PM

Friday, May 28, 2010

Starting a 4th year of blogging

Frisky on my mom's scooter

I have recently completed 3 years of blogging.  By tradition, I have a picture of my mom, Jeannette.  This year, I found pictures of her cat Frisky, her most recent and last pet.  She is minding Mom’s motorized scooter;  Scooters like hers are now commonplace but this was really something in her day that helped her independence.

Another Frisky picture:

Frisky and David M.

She’s with me, her “daddy”.  I could not leave the house without her at my ankles. (“DADDY GOES!  DO NOT WANT!”) When I did leave, she would tell Mom endlessly and at length in many words, “PAPA GONE!”  (And then, coming home, she would see me—and totally ignore me!  “NOT TALKING!  YOU WENT OUT”)  It’s been 16 years and I miss them both.

My past year’s blogging saw an old Salem blogging duo go away, and a new one emergeA dear friend of ours passed on. I saw a lot of rancor and strife, no small amount from myself.

We saw the design for a new Salem Depot go forward, and I also saw blogging burnout.  I’m still fighting that—if it were not for SATV and my work on the Commission I would be lost..

My apartment was rearranged when a new elevator was built in my building this past year.  It still isn’t open yet but hopefully soon…

Last year I missed the groundbreaking ceremony for the Salem Jail.  The ribboncutting was yesterday.  I missed that too.  But I did go to the open house!

To another year of blogging!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Salem Commission on Disabilities May 2010 Unofficial Minutes

Collage of Elliot, Andy's late guide dog

The May meeting has been dedicated to Elliot.  This is a collage created by Andy’s daughter.

Salem Commission on Disabilities Meeting Minutes for May 2010

May 18th, 2010

Meeting Introduction

The Salem Commission on Disabilities met on May 18th, 2010. Jean Levesque will not be present as he was scheduled for heart surgery this week. David Tracht is off.

Present: David Martel, Debra Lobsitz, Michael Taylor, Andrew J. LaPointe, Dave Knowlan, guest, Tom Boudreau, Verizon, and Jack Harris.

Guest Presenter

Mr. Tom Boudreau of Verizon:

Jack: It’s been a long time coming; Jean Levesque and I met with Tom, and Stan Usovicz, over the winter and felt he would be a very good resource for the community as far as what Verizon offers. I’ll let Tom speak.

Tom: Thank you all for inviting me here today. I can’t hear anything, so I brought an interpreter.

I work with the Customer Center for People with Disabilities. We serve people like the deaf with TDD/TTY phones. We serve people with hearing impairments with amplified phones. We try to use technology to help people. For example we help people with JAWS. Most people are concerned--is the service compatible with their line? We try to give the right authoritative answer.

[Verizon FIOS] has opened a lot of doors for people with disabilities.

Dave Martel: Not in Salem.

Tom: I live in Peabody. Not there either

Tom: It's a fantastic technology. Basically the phone is like a little tv or computer with a webcam. People with sign language can use it. If your kid calls you're going to want to see him to see that everything's fine. It looks easy, but what makes it work is very complicated.

It's internet based but you need a certain speed; too slow and the service becomes choppy.

So, what we need for that is download and upload speeds that are faster. Most people don't know their upload speeds; hey tell the customer their download speeds but almost never upload speeds.

FIOS offers an upload speed of 2 Mbps, and high-definition television.

What's interesting is that … you can reach out and communicate with anyone with your language.

We offer phones that the deaf can use to communicate with sign.

We do serve people who are hard of hearing. We have all kinds of technology for them. We have the Relay. How does that work?

The caller calls a third-party Relay service. The Relay operator will use the TTY to the deaf caller at 65 wpm--faster than the national standard of 45 wpm.

Now it is improved; the caller will talk to the relay operator who will transcribe text to the computer much faster at 150 wpm.

That's what I try to do. New things come up every day.

The important thing about my work about the center I work with is, what is the definition of disability: What I tell people is that when their [abilities] and the environment do not match, they have a disability..

It takes patience to work with customers, like blind customers who can't see the phones or things they're working on. I ask them to put their hands on the device. I don't claim to know everything. I get and give one to one training to deal with different customers and their different disabilities. If they can't hear, we can amplify our outgoing phones. We want them to be comfortable. We ask a lot of questions. How can you make the right decisions if you can't ask the right decisions?

People with motion disabilities, we have to make sure they have the right tools. I have many people come to me.

This is a center that is entirely devoted to people with disabilities. That's very important to point out.

Our products are great. But we are very proud of our customer service. It is only as good as we can make it and we are trying to make it the best. We want to make our customers very comfortable. Any questions about phone, TV, cable or Internet service, I would be very happy to answer.

We can't deal with things like TV commercials but we can deal with captions. The service in the 1990's was what was known as Line 21. Now, it is digital and Line 21 has disappeared. The law required that any device with video have CC built in. But many people found that after digital, the CC was turned off and they had to turn it on at the device.

The important thing to realize is that there's a place for people to call to find this information.

Jack: One of the questions I have is, do you have direct responsibilities for training your CS people about people with disabilities?

Tom: Yes I work on training ... And try to include that.

Jack: This is more of a business aspect than disabilities. Verizon seems to be a much more expensive product, in their landline services, than other products. Can people with disabilities get price breaks?

Tom: Two part answer: We do have discounts in some areas. Some blind qualify for free directory assistance. Verizon does offer a competitive price if you get several services together. We can get FIOS TV, internet, phone for $99.

Dave Martel: Not yet!

Tom: We are working on that. If there is competition, the prices will go down.

Jack: When you talk about competition, I think it is extremely important to continue or complete service to Salem not only for the residents but also for the people who live and work in Salem. The more leverage that can be brought to bear with VZ and FIOS will go a long way towards residents and tourists but also with VZ. Especially for the disability community.

Dave Moisan: FIOS access to multi-unit buildings? Especially public multi-unit buildings?

Tom: FIOS is still cheaper to the customer than other services with bundling. And DSL is limited by distance, FIOS is not.

Andy: $99? One year.

Tom: Two years. Every state [and franchise] has different terms and I don’t' try to memorize them all. Just call and see what deals they can offer you? All I can do is encourage you to make the phone call.

Andy: I had occasion to work with their [VZ] customer service and am very happy with it.

Tom: Thank you.

Andy: I can tell you I'm not happy with Comcast telephone.

Tom: I'm more concerned with their picture/TV service and the picture phones. The TV service looks much better, much more than some TV's can display. I've been very fortunate to go to a FIOS house and see all the things that can be done. Even refrigerators that can order food!

If you can save money and get the best quality service out there; people with disabilities will benefit. I'm very proud of my work. We have two centers in Marlborough [MA] and Oxnard [CA]. The baby boom generation has more people with mobility impairments and disabilities and we can make a strong business case.

I can tell you right now we are providing it.

Jack: What about videoconferencing? Hardware? Resources for people with disabilities? Costs? How?

Tom: Many, many Internet based providers. Most video phone companies will provide the phone free of charge but you must have internet service--it won't work otherwise. They make money on their relay service which defrays the cost of the phone.

Tom: 5 or 6 companies. Changes every day. Some are wireless and I am trying one right now--not that I'm trying to drive my car with it!

Andy: Sure you're not in Sales?

Tom: I'm not trying to push a product that's worse than the competition. I wouldn't push it if I weren't confident in it, because if you don't like it you won't be back.

Jack [and all]: Thank you for coming.

Old Business

Market Basket MBTA Bus Stop

Jack: I do have a small update: I talked to Mr. Matthews at MB and heard right back from a woman at the T. I’ll pass around two letters I got. MB and the City and the MBTA met. They did come to some agreement as to where the stop was going, who would pay for it, etc. MB sent back kind of a "threat?" to that deal. So, I said to the lady from the T that I would get back to Mr. Matthews and look at the bus stop issue again.

Options we have: The other half of the plaza is owned by a different company. If MB can't do it, perhaps these people can. Our ultimate goal has always been the safety of the passengers using MB and Shaws. I will keep people updated and am working with Jason Silva to get something done by the time the snow flies.

Salem Common Tot Lot

Jack: As some of you may have been aware, through the city's website and a piece in the paper, the Salem Common Tot Lot is being built this weekend, Thurs.-Saturday 7 AM through dusk.

The Salem Gazette article claims Steve Dibble is involved in the project but no confirmation. Hopefully this will be a successful project.

As some of you may know there was another tot lot project that happened over on High Street. Check that out.

Tavern in the Square

Jack: There’s been a new development in the Tavern in the Square situation. As you know, the sidewalk is blocked when the outdoor seating is opened.

David Martel: According to yesterday’s Salem News, The TITS in Central Square Cambridge does NOT block the sidewalk. Beverages can be carried to and from the restaurant across the open sidewalk.

Jack: That would help much. Beth Rennard is looking into this. Also, the News article had a complete list of sidewalk dining areas. Very helpful!

Dave Martel: Lots of people in Salem love and use outdoor seating.

Jack: No one wants to take away from outdoor seating but public access to public areas is still very daunting. TITS presents one important issue but not the most important one.

Jack: Some business owners were saying: It was only a "little" inconvenience for people with disabilities. I disagreed. Strongly. I got up and let them know that in no uncertain terms. The more [stuff] thrown out on the sidewalks, the harder it is for everyone to traverse.

People got the message We may be stuck with [the arrangement] of TITS because of certain political decisions, but we will continue to try to develop a clear path of travel.

David Martel: People are wondering just why the situation is different in Cambridge. There was more of a enclosed seating area, though I could be wrong.

Jack: This is, too, there’s not a lot of difference between the two. The other thing to be aware of, I let them know the other issue that they and the city need to be aware of is, there needs to be a 36-inch clearance in the seating area itself [for diners with disabilities]. Someone can file a complaint. Enforcement is going to be a big issue. Of course, I was reassured, “oh yes, we will manage that etc.”

Jack: I want to make all of you aware that you may hear of violations, not only from residents but also visitors.

Dave Martel: Adriatic took over the Edgewater; I got many complaints when the Edgewater was in operation; they would move barriers when Tom St. Pierre called, but then they’d move them back.

Andy: Laws different in Cambridge vs .Salem?

David Martel: Supposedly it was the state board making the rules.

MAAB Updates

Vinnin Square

Jack: I called Mark Dempsey, who does the survey, to schedule a site visit to Vinnin Sq. that had an access problem some time ago and 4 First St. and he will come in a few weeks.

The Vinnin Sq. property has been a problem for some time; they promised to fix the problem but nothing has been done as of this spring. We concurred that we should file a complaint and Mark Dempsey will be paying a visit.

Salem Housing Authority

Jack: Dave Martel & David Tracht made the site visit [at 45 St. Peter], made recommendations to the MAAB. The variance was approved.

Jack: Is the new elevator up and running?

David Moisan: Not yet. I understood the variance involved a new control panel on the 1st floor?

Jack: Correct.

David Moisan: I know when the new elevator is operating, the old elevator is going to be replaced. The old elevator replacement is in the design stage. I don’t know any more than any other tenant.

Andy: Dave, how many floors?

David Moisan: 5.

Jack: That’s why the second elevator was needed. The old elevator was breaking down constantly. \

76 Lafayette Street (The Howling Wolf)

Jack: This is going to be a taco restaurant, down the street from SATV [in the West Coast Video building]. I wrote the MAAB. The variance--ramp, restrooms and signage—is completely approved.

Berba Dental

[Wilson St. @ Highland]

Railings on HP ramp are not in compliance. When Jean comes back I can check the slope with our scale. They are getting an architect and the MAAB is giving them til August.

Dave Martel: Plenty of spaces near the ramp--but none of them marked.

Charlie R.: Mount the signs high enough over snowbanks, and paint them blue.

City Hall Elevator

Jack: An update on the City Hall elevator. It’s under construction. The power is installed, and the elevator cab is on its way. Hopefully by July it will be in service. Natalie Dill has been giving us regular and very informative updates. Excellent job!

New Business

A-frame signs

Charlie: A matter on the A-Frame signs. We gave our version of how dangerous the signs can be to people with canes; they can get their canes stuck on it and break it. There's no consistency on A-frames. There is a regulation for allowed square footage of signage per running foot of building. That should include A-Frame signs. I'm talking with Mike Sosnowski.

Marie's Sweet Something has a sign that is very well designed, with a colonial style that does not obstruct the building. It's very attractive.

Marie was there at the meeting and appreciated my comments.

Dave Martel: Businesses on Front St. at her location have followed the same convention so that Front St. looks very consistent and unified.

Charlie: As long as they don't interfere with the path of travel.

Also mentioned: Cobblestones on Essex Street Mall are HORRENDOUS! I've seen children in carriages being pushed down the street--there can't be a worse torture for them!

Andy: The thing is they're looking for a path of travel to be at least 5 feet (wide). They will bring the Commission in for any variance. 95% of the meeting was based on the MAAB and concerns of people with disabilities

It was a good meeting. I have a copy of the committee report which I will email everyone. . I did tell the committee that it is very important they use us [the commission] a lot more as it is much easier to deal with issues before they actually come out there.

We can even go to the businesses to talk with them individually.

Charlie: One thing I brought up at the meeting: When the new high school was built we went to many meetings--but this was well before anything was built! We had a lot of changes, but they were minor and didn't cost much. Everything we do is for the benefit of the City of Salem and the citizens of Salem and the visitors to Salem. This is all volunteer work!

David Martel: If people utilize us more, people see us more involved and that is good.

Andy: [About service dogs] Not all dogs are the same. Consistency is really a must. I brought up using a cane--as I have to now use one--I have memories of using canes and it tells me that people often step on the cane and break it, especially if you have [just] a 36 inch path of travel. They don't pay attention to the cane, where they would pay attention to the dog.

Especially Heritage week, Haunted Happenings, etc. Salem is a big attractor to many people with disabilities. So I think this is going to work out good.


Andy: Back in February, my daughter made a collage for her class project on Elliot. She asked me for help and my wife Cheryl helped put together the pictures. The project got an A.

Disabilities Policy Consortium

Jack: Debra L. and I have been working on this. We would like to host a future meeting of the Disabilities Policy Consortium. I don’t know as much as I should; I know something about it, but not enough.

Debra L.: I have a contact with the DPC; I contacted her about the possibility of using some venues Salem to host an event. She told me the next meeting of the DPC will be in Wilmington—June 29th, 6 PM—and invitations will go out soon.

Jack: If you can get the information and invitations, we might be able to get the Council on Aging to transport commissioners to this meeting. It would be very worthwhile to go and a great networking experience. There’s not a lot of consolidation of disability-related resources. I am told Jeff Dugan of MOD will be there. Hopefully this will be productive.


The meeting adjourned at 5:40 PM. Next meeting, June 15th, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tavern in the Square has an open sidewalk—In Cambridge!

Downtown Seating Tavern in the Square 2010-05-05 010

Very interesting development in the Tavern in the Square situation:  Apparently, the Tavern’s Cambridge location at Central Square also has a sidewalk running through it—but it’s not closed off, unlike in Salem!

Here it is in Bird’s-eye View:

Map picture

The outdoor seating can just be seen behind the white van in the center of the frame.  I have been to Central Square a number of times before the restaurant was there and I can say it would be virtually impossible to close off that section of street for the restaurant as there is much, much pedestrian traffic passing that point.

The seating seems to most resemble that of Rockafella’s, which makes me wonder all the more how this restriction in Salem came about.

Without speaking for the Commission, I can still say that this is a very interesting development that we will be pursuing for sure.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Remembering Elliot

Andy and Elliot

[Courtesy photo from the Salem News used without permission.]

Last week, my colleague and friend on the Salem Commission on Disability had sad news:  His longtime guide dog, Elliot, passed away.

We have plenty of stories on the Commission about Elliot.  He was Andy’s second guide dog, following the retirement of Yates, both dogs having been fostered and trained by Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation.

One of the hardest things to remember when meeting any service animal—and I have met many over the years—is that the animal is “on the clock”.  It’s working for its owner, doing its job.  You can’t pet the animal or talk to the animal or interact with it as you would a pet.

As a pet lover in general, this is hard for me to remember.

Elliot made it even harder.

Elliot, like many dogs, loved most humans and wanted very much to meet new friends.  Whenever I got into a car with Andy to go somewhere, Elliot would jump in the back seat, but not before giving his fellow passengers a kiss and a lick with his tongue as if to say, “Hi!  You can be my buddy?!”

During Commission meetings, Andy would often pick the seat next to mine, near the center of the table.

Elliot would turn to me, lick my hand and look at me for acknowledgment.  It was hard to ignore him, yet I had to gently nudge him to curl up next to Andy for the remainder of the meeting.

Which he did.  Fidelco is not only good at socializing its foster dogs, but also training them. 

Elliot was a great dog.

He will be missed, and not only by Andy.

The 2010 Fidelco Walk next week is dedicated to Elliot.

My colleague, Jean Harrison, had this  memory of Elliot:

I really thought of Elliot as an under the table commissioner.  He was a dear, sweet dog.  I occasionally had the good fortune to have him rest his head against my leg or on my foot.  Which was very nice & made me feel welcome as the most junior commissioner.

Very sweet.  Thanks, Jean, for letting me repost this.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tavern in the Square sidewalk controversy

Tavern in the Square outdoor seating

Update on last summer’s controversy over Tavern in the Square.  The tavern’s outdoor seating has been completed and is now open for diners.

But as mentioned in the Salem News, it’s not necessarily open for pedestrians.  Due to state liquor laws, the sidewalk is closed to public access while the outdoor seating is in use.

The Commission on Disabilities has been very concerned about the blocked sidewalk for some timeOur co-chairs spoke out last week.

SRA chairman Brennan says, of the detour:

"You might take 20 extra steps before you get beyond it," said Salem Redevelopment Authority Chairman Mike Brennan. "It's not a major impediment. I don't see this as a major problem. We're not asking you to walk a quarter of a mile."

Mr. Brennan, I have colleagues who have to count every step they have to take.  20 extra steps is not a problem for me but it is a problem for many cane users and those whose knees have given out.

But I can speak as a visually impaired person and I believe there is a problem.

Several years ago I nearly lost my sight:  My right eye’s retina tore, followed several months later by my left eye’s retina.  It was nearly two years and five operations before my sight was stable again.

During my recovery I had to perform many daily tasks with 20/100 vision or worse.  Tasks which included taking walks on sidewalks downtown and boarding buses.  You might think I should have just stayed home, but I and many others don’t have servants or even many family members to help.  There are many people walking their way through Salem with bad eyes;  I would not be the first nor the last.

To this day I have little usable vision in my left eye (20/200). 

To illustrate the problems around the Tavern in the Square area I took some photos, at noon and at dusk.  I’ve blurred them to approximate what and how I see out of my “bad” eye.

First, here is Tavern in the Square, from Washington St. walking south:

Tavern in the Square, Washington St. noon south

Here is the same view, through my bad eye:

Downtown Seating Tavern in the Square 2010-05-05 day south blurred

Now, Tavern in the Square from New Derby St.:

Downtown Seating Tavern in the Square 2010-05-05 019 day north And blurred:

Downtown Seating Tavern in the Square 2010-05-05 019 day north blurred These pictures were snapped around high noon that day.  I came back at dusk a few days later.  When your eyesight deteriorates, perhaps later in life, you may first notice it at dusk, a very challenging time to see, even for those with normal sight.

Tavern in the Square at dusk, Washington St.:

Outdoor Seating Tavern in the Square Dusk 2010-05-06 004 dusk south


Outdoor Seating Tavern in the Square Dusk 2010-05-06 004 dusk south blurred

From New Derby St. at dusk:

Outdoor Seating Tavern in the Square Dusk 2010-05-06 016 north 2

And blurred:

Outdoor Seating Tavern in the Square Dusk 2010-05-06 016 north 2 blurred

The sign directing diners was blown down—it was gusty that day.

When your sight is bad enough  that you can only see lights and darks and vague shapes, it’s a very different experience than most are used to.  Many can imagine being sightless—just by closing their eyes—but few realize the problems faced by the visually impaired.

Much was made, during last week’s meeting and the comments in the News, about accommodating “just 4 blind people” who walk through the intersection.  I have no idea if that count is accurate, having been thrown out by a reader on the News page.  But I do know there are many more visually impaired out there.  Probably someone you know.

Here’s one last set of photos:

Outdoor Seating Tavern in the Square Dusk 2010-05-06 017 new derby curb

This is, for lack of a better term, a curb structure put in during Tavern in the Square’s development.  I don’t know what purpose it was originally for.  The Commission has been told this was “a mistake”.  Here it is blurred, and at dusk:

Outdoor Seating Tavern in the Square Dusk 2010-05-06 017 new derby curb blurred

This is the quintessential problem I face as a visually impaired person.  Even though my sight is a good deal better than this, I have a very hard time seeing slight contrasts as represented by this sidewalk structure.

(This was blocked by sawhorses after this picture was taken.)

I occasionally attend seminars in IT as part of my field, and there is a hotel in the theatre district in Boston that I will never go to again because they insist on having steps into and out of the lobby that are black and completely unmarked.  I hate falling.  I have many other examples, of which this is only one.  (Another reason I hate cobblestones.)

I have no position on Prevey’s proposed fees on sidewalk access, and I don’t think the Commission will have a position either (at least until we next meet, if even then.)

I have no animus whatsoever towards Tavern in the Square, either, and I understand the other factors involved.

But I think there is a problem here, and I suspect the Commission will see it that way at next week’s meeting.

The resolution may involve orange barriers (at least, yellow or orange ropes, not necessarily construction barriers.)  Or it may involve redesigning the New Derby intersection, which has been on our wish-list.

But the one thing this is not about, Mr. Brennan, is “20 extra steps”.

Update:  EyesOnStreets has commented on my post..  I don’t agree with everything said there (I’m not a fan of Kunstler and, I can see the back side of the new courthouse from my house and don’t think it’s ugly) but I appreciate the kind words nonetheless.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Salem Commission on Disabilities April 2010 Unofficial Minutes

[Sorry for the delay.  No pictures this post—DM]

The Salem Commission on Disabilities met on April 20th, 2010 at 4:00 PM.

Present: Jack Harris, Debra Lobsitz, Andy J. LaPointe, David Tracht, David Moisan, Charlie Reardon, David Martel and Jean Harrison.

Mike Taylor was unable to attend. Jean Levesque and Mike Sosnowski were not present.

Old Business--MBTA Bus stop, Market Basket

Jack: As most of you know, with the help of David Moisan, we’ve brought attention to the T bus stop at Market Basket. The city, with the help of Market Basket and the MBTA put a meeting together with suggestions. It has stalled. Not sure how, but in my discussions with Jason Silva, it ran into a roadblock. Market Basket and the T had a discussion, thought it was a good idea, MB offered to construct a shelter. But the T backed off, didn't like the location of the shelter.

I called Mr. Mathews to arrange a meeting with Jason in hopes of getting this done. It’s a safety issue.

Dave Moisan: I’d gotten a message from Richard Swinuch that he’d got from Keenan’s office; the abutter of MB (Shaw’s plaza next door) did not approve of the bus routing.

Jack: MB was going to pay for the bus shelter to be on their side of the mall.

Watch the Walmart/Lowes project--new stoplights and crosswalks are in now in the area but there could be reconfiguration. Several other stops on Highland Ave. present the same problems but the MB stop is the most notable.

MBTA New Garage at T lot

Jack: As some of you know, we won part of the fight: There will be a full-height platform--walk from the platform straight to the train (no steps). Now, we want a canopy over the whole platform. Previously, the T was citing money issues, plus the platform is on a curve and they didn't want to do it. From discussion with several people from the state, this is a win-win.

Charlie: There will be more wheelchair passengers, now that they can more easily board. Scott Maguire (friend of Charlie’s) once had to ride in the back of a baggage car.

Jack: This will help people on foot who won’t have to go up on steps.

David Martel: Will the boarding area be enclosed?

Jack: The T is still accepting comments.

Jean Harrison: They are more aware of the disabled.

Jack: A $300 million judgment (against the MBTA) will do that.

David Martel: Not to mention the curb cuts all over Salem. People take them for granted and if we took even half of them out, people would notice.

When we did the Access Monitor training, so many people from outside came to Salem and realized how good our access is compared to other places.

Charlie: The Witch Museum is accessible.

David Martel: Many of these people could grandfather out of the ADA requirements but they go ahead and make things accessible. Biff Michaud did that with the Witch Museum.

They put a lot of reenactments downstairs to make them accessible.

Andy: Another comment on the train platform; you may go on the train several times and not have any problems, but once you may have a problem. I had to call for my stop once and the train stopped halfway to Beverly. They had to back up to the station.

Jack: First rule: Disabled people need to let the conductor know where they will depart the train.

Andy: I did do that.

David Martel: Flight attendants do that too; I asked for assistance on a recent flight. You might hate doing that if you’re disabled—we’re all proud people—but we must do that.

Jack: Self-designation certainly helps. Safety, plus it helps them get to where they need to go.

David Tracht: The conductors must help too.

Andy: Blind people who get the ambition to travel, can get that ambition lost very quickly when they have a problem.

David Tracht: The train put me to sleep on the way home and I always woke up before my stop. I always wondered what if I didn’t? Partially-sighted people have particular problems in the fall and winter.

Jack: I ran into a new system today. They have automatic stop announcements that you may have heard in the subway (“Next stop...Government Center"). There is now a system on the commuter rail—but it has a female voice, which I don’t like.

Those who get a Blind Access Pass for the T: It's no longer good forever. It needs to be renewed every five years.

Renewal reminders aren't sent automatically.

Charlie: A blind person or a sight-impaired person can’t possibly read the fine print on the pass! What is he/she supposed to do?

Jack: I called the T to get a new one. They said they’re backed up. What do I do in the meantime? The phone rep told me something interesting: “Try the pass and maybe they’ll let you on!”

David Tracht: Won’t work on commuter rail.

David Moisan: I remind people that about five years ago, the T went to their Charlie Card system. They may be hoping people will fall off the rolls because they are deceased or they are no longer impaired.

David Martel: Where can you reload a Charlie Card in Salem?

David Moisan: Register the CharlieCard online. If you’re comfortable using debit online, this is best. All the buses have fare boxes that can be used to reload cards.

Most drivers are patient. Or you can go on the bus a few minutes before the trip. There are a few extra steps that involve tapping a button, tapping your card, inserting your money, tapping the card again and finally tapping the card one last time to pay the fare.

Jack: One of the drivers will help if you ask.

MAAB Update--4 First Street

4 First St. will get a site visit from the MAAB to review the parking lot access problem. We were hoping to do it this week but things came up. We’ll let everyone know when this is happening.

Variance at Morency Manor, Salem Housing Authority

Jack: The Salem Housing Authority asked for a variance. I handed this to David Martel and David Tracht since it would be a conflict of interest for me (and David Moisan) to handle it since I (and Dave M.) are SHA tenants.

David Martel: SHA wants a variance for Morency Manor. The control panel for the new elevator is in an alcove, but they want to put in a 2nd control panel. There should have been a variance in the first place from the contractor.

Variance at 76 Lafayette Street

Jack: Taco restaurant has been proposed for the unrented part of West Coast Video. The variance was requested before the building was even permitted, which we really appreciate. We will make a recommendation and send it along

Burba Dental (Highland Ave. @ Wilson Rd.) Variance

Jack: There are no HP parking spaces and ramp is not compliant. Tom St. Pierre will be back and we will discuss this. We want to know why the ramp is not compliant. I will let people know what’s going on.

Jack: The SRA had a meeting about outdoor seating. I talked about the direct path of travel. There was a problem involving the old Edgewater Café. They had seating that blocked off the sidewalk and got two complaints about it.

We will have to revisit this.

Dave Martel: Tavern in the Square: They flattened the traffic island and relocated the traffic controls. They did a very nice job and there are no access issues or trip hazards. They did listen.

Jack: We will have to watch this; summer will wind up quickly.

New Business

ADA Observance July 26, 2010

Jack: This year is the 20th anniversary of the ADA. I would like to put together some sort of good observance. The ILCNSCA is putting on an event. I'd like to have an event here, at Winter Island or Old Town Hall or the Ferry.

There are many accessible areas that are new in Salem that we should or want to highlight.

David Martel: Access training again?

Jack: Jeff Dugan is trying to visit every Commission on Disabilities in the state (200?). And is asking for an invitation (we will invite.) Regional meetings have happened, and the Disability Consortium Council has been doing some of these meetings.

Debra: Regional meeting in Salem?

David Martel: It’s possible. Visitor's Center is one possibility.

Dave Martel: For people starting up or reactivating their Commissions, Salem is an excellent model.

Incident on Bridge Street

Jack: There was a small article in the paper last weekend. A young lady in a chair was trying to get up Bridge St. near the motel with the MassHighway construction. A truck was parked on the sidewalk in the way, so she went around and the flagman on duty was very upset with her. Not that it’s necessarily the flagman’s fault, but the pedestrian should have gotten assistance. I brought it to the attention of John Jodoin about this.

Charlie Reardon: I talked about this with the construction crew on Bridge St. The flagmen don’t want to work on Bridge St. Officers will work Bridge St. while the [civilian] flagmen will do side streets.

Jack: My interest in this is that the flagman was obviously unhelpful. The truck should not have been parked there.

David Martel: It brings up a thought about school crossing guards. I wanted to cross the street at Boston & Essex Sts. and there was a crossing guard. I asked the guard for help crossing, and he told me I wasn’t a kid. Well, I’m not a senior citizen but still the traffic is horrendous.

Jack: Is the crossing guard solely for children? There needs to be clarification one way or the other.

David Moisan: I have had the opposite—crossing guards who insisted I cross the street with their assistance.

A Frame Signs, City Council Committee Meeting

Jack: Regulations for A-frame signs are being reconsidered. Joan Lovely is heading the committee to govern over these. We have asked for an invitation to a meeting. These signs directly impact the path of travel.

Andy: Nothing specific in the ordinances about disabled or blind, only the general 36 inch rule. If there needs to be consideration for the disabled with those signs, we need to speak out.

Charlie: I suggested to Rinus [Salem Chamber of Commerce] that the red line at Daniel Low's (now Rockefeller's) be cleared of any signs, seating and etc. and make a clear path of travel. This was done last year and all but 2 merchants complied. Signs should be near a tree, pole or other landmark when possible instead of standing on their own.

Andy & Dave Martel: Suggested a map similar to the official visitor's map, but instead of the usual red line, a blue line detailing path of travel and accessible pedestrian signals. A woman from Winthrop told me she has no idea how to safely get from one point of interest to another in her wheelchair.

Dave Martel has volunteered to do this.

Andy: Salem is a great place to visit for people with disabilities. Just go to any place where people from around the state meet, like the Carroll Center for the Blind. They all say Salem is great!

Jean Harrison: Put a sign outside designated restaurants?

Charlie Reardon: I’ll make the sign. It’ll have the HP logo and “courtesy of the Salem Commission on Disabilities” (blue and white).

Dave Martel: The information is sent also to Shaugnessy for use by the patients and families.

Other Business

Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann—911 Indicator Form

Andy: The ILCNSCA had no idea about the 911 indicator form; they are aware now, but for now we need to remind every disabled person in Salem to fill out the 911 indicator form in case of emergencies. All information is confidential.

Jack: 911 Indicator form has been on our website for some time. They just have to call us or attend our meetings. They have not. They've refused to work with us. They haven't even asked us to be part of variance requests. They know we're part of the process and they just don't want to do it.

Andy: If they don't know about it and I didn't know about the ILCNSCA, what's more important is that some disabled person needs to call 911 and it's a crisis--the person won't be thinking of that. Point is, when they fill out the form and something goes wrong, they will know the situation, you're in a wheelchair, you need rescue, etc. We need to bring it to everyone's attention. 25% of Salem's population has a disability. (!)

We need to get the point out.

David Martel: Can put out a flyer?

Andy: We need to work on this continually, and never stop.

Debra: Send the forms to the ILCNSCA?

Andy: I do my show for TIC and send the information everywhere.

Jack: The ILCNSCA gets this?

Andy: Not unless they listen. It's important enough that we need to make this a priority.

Audible Signal at Market Basket Southbound

David Moisan: The audible signal at the bus shelter outside Pep Boys (Market Basket southbound) broke several weeks ago. I notified Jason. The Polara signal was replaced two weeks later with a non-audible button. Need to check back with city engineer to see if audible signal will be replaced. The crosswalk needs audible signals at both sides for them to be effective.

David Martel: I’m surprised there are no audible signals at Salem Hospital. The sun obstructs view at sunrise and sunset.

David Moisan: There are no new signals north of Salem High--all signals between Essex St. and Wilson St. are the old non-audible signals.

Jack: Since you started this query, can you follow up with Jason?

David Moisan: Yes, I will check on that one. And I will ask about what will happen north of the high school. Boston St. is another issue entirely, but my immediate concern is the Market Basket signal.


Next Meeting is May 18, 2010,

Guest will be Verizon [Tom Boudreau]