As someone with a physical disability, I read with particular interest the article in the July 9th issue of Inquirer, “Successes and Challenges: Accessibility for People with Disabilities in Scarsdale,” which discusses the need for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to be taken into account. As a former special education teacher, I was very familiar with physical and mental disabilities as I was guided by a related law, the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA), which ensures that children with disabilities get the education they need and deserve.
As a background, the ADA came into force in 1990 and is an important civil rights law to protect disabled people from discrimination in public and private spaces that are accessible to the public. The aim of the law is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. No state, county, city, or village / town can ignore the ADA at any time. The US Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing compliance with the underlying ADA regulations.
Ironically, as informed as I thought, my world didn’t change dramatically until February 2018, when I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I don’t teach anymore, I was disabled and dependent on someone else to drive me around. The blue signs for reserved parking spaces, which I always noticed but never needed, became my lifeline for easier navigation in parks.
Now when I see a car without a blue hangtag or handicap sign, I kindly tell the driver (as he approaches his vehicle), “This space is reserved for the handicapped.” Those who respond tend to say, “I was only for Walked in for a few minutes. ”I urge all villagers to politely point out that saving time is not a hindrance. More importantly, the ‘do not park’ spaces are between some disabled parking spaces so that wheelchair vehicles with side openings can function. Please also look at these fields as if they were marked in blue.
I recently joined the Scarsdale Council for People with Disabilities, chaired by Marian Green, as I wanted to bring my real life experiences and ideas on how we can make Scarsdale a more livable village. I believe the Scarsdale village should make the following investments in order to achieve two distinct goals:
1) Make sure all village facilities and regulations are ADA compliant.
2) Ensure that the village workers who write new guidelines / regulations / codes are trained in the requirements of the ADA so that they can write ADA compliant regulations / codes as they are implemented. ADA compliance should begin at the beginning of an initiative, not as a result of a complaint or litigation.
The first investment is to hire an external ADA auditing firm to review all existing and planned village facilities (buildings, parks, etc.) and prioritize compliance. ADA auditing is something that many Westchester County villages, towns, and cities have successfully done. Scarsdale should be a leader in this regard, not a follower.
The second investment is to train all of our village department heads and key personnel who will be tasked with writing new guidelines, regulations, and codes of ADA compliance. This is intended to ensure compliance on an ongoing basis. I have a hands-on experience on the subject that I would like to share.
In mid-March 2020, when the country responded to the COVID-19 outbreak with lockdowns, the village put in place a policy that all bulky rubbish that was collected on my street on Fridays had to be dropped off at the sanitary facility on Secor Road the village did not have the staff to provide this service. Unfortunately, not all disabled people can drive a car. This may seem trivial, but it is a violation of the ADA as the ADA requires that “reasonable accommodation” be in place to ensure non-discrimination against the disabled. Note that this does not mean that the disabled can request accommodation as they please. It has to be sensible.
After many frustrating months I was able to successfully find decent accommodation with the village of Scarsdale which is now published on the sanitation page of the village website at scarsdale.com. My point is that knowing the ADA requirements would have led to a different policy initially, one that does not burden the village and provides reasonable accommodation for the disabled. A side effect would be the timely provision of services to the disabled even at a time of national stress at all levels of government.
– Jeffrey A. Steinberg lives on Lawrence Road.