Accommodations for disabled found lacking
It's hardly a secret that some destinations on Long Island are less than ideal for people with disabilities. On a recent drive through several communities in Nassau County, the absence or inadequacy of designated parking spaces was apparent in communities rich and poor and in between, in vast parking lots behind major office buildings and along stretches of shops in small downtowns.
Matthew Dwyer, commissioner of Nassau's Office for the Physically Challenged, has one explanation for why so many facilities don't meet Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines, which date to the 1990s: "All too often access is an afterthought, as opposed to a primary concern of design."
Facilities that belong to state and local governments were required to be accessible by 1995, according to the ADA section that applies to public services. That's not always easy to accomplish, especially in buildings that predate the ADA's existence.
In Bayville, for example, Village Hall is a brick building that, in an earlier life, had been a stable, building inspector James Goolsby said. It's clear that the village has taken steps to try to accommodate residents with disabilities: Two parking spaces have been designated and a concrete ramp installed at the side entrance.
But some question whether those efforts are sufficient. One is resident Scott Bebry, who points out that the ramp lacks a level landing and clearance for the doors to open and a buzzer to call for assistance.
"There are a lot of elderly people in chairs in Bayville," Bebry said. "If the village made it easy for them to get into Village Hall, they would come."
As for the parking spaces: ADA guidelines say designated spaces should be those "closest to the accessible entrance." One is in the parking lot, farther from the building entrance than several other regular spaces, and the second is across the road.
Village Mayor Douglas Watson declined to answer questions other than to say "we try to be compliant" with ADA guidelines.
Goolsby said the ramp and parking spaces were installed to serve disabled residents and pointed out that the ramp meets ADA slope requirements. Adding a landing at the doorway would require extending the ramp into the parking lot, he said.
And the two parking spaces were situated to serve people visiting not only village offices but also the library and museum that occupy other sections of the horseshoe-shaped structure, Goolsby said.
Then there's the issue of restroom accessibility.
Bebry, who has relied on a wheelchair since a motorcycle accident in 1985, told Watchdog that when he attended a Village Board meeting several weeks ago he asked if there was an accessible restroom. "They had no answer for me," he said. "I asked them, 'Do I have to relieve myself outside?' "
The first-floor restroom, the size of a tiny closet, isn't easy to reconfigure because of the nature of the building, which has concrete walls and narrow hallways, Goolsby said.
But an advocate with the state, Gregory Jones, said he was "stunned that in this day and age" a municipality hasn't provided such a restroom for "a guy [who] wants to go to an accessible facility and use it like everybody else."
Local and state governments have known for decades that they need to meet such requirements and were given time to develop plans, said Jones, senior attorney with the state Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities. But even those that cite "undue hardship" need to have a plan, he said -- for instance, holding meetings in another location with adequate facilities.
One village official who declined to speak on the record said the village isn't required to make a restroom accessible unless the building undergoes an upgrade. As for the ramp to the entrance: He suggested residents use cellphones to call for help opening the doors.
Jones countered that municipalities "can't keep using this 'hardship effect' year after year" because, under the ADA, they were supposed to "identify what they have to do and when they're going to do it."
When it comes to new construction and renovations of commercial buildings, Bayville aims to make sure those are accessible to everyone, Goolsby said, and cited such recent examples as the entry ramp at a renovated building and sidewalk ramps with nonskid surfaces at curb cuts in the village.
"We are proactive when it comes to this stuff," he said. "I gotta tell you, we are head and shoulders above other places. Every sidewalk we have has ramps at the corners."
Then there's the Village Hall in what was once a horse stable -- a place where Bebry, for one, would like to see the village try harder.