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

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