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Freeport still has work to do on ADA accommodations

Freeport's new mayor, Robert Kennedy, is sworn in

Freeport's new mayor, Robert Kennedy, is sworn in at a ceremony held at Freeport Village Hall, April 1, 2013. Credit: Johnny Milano

Freeport Village Hall, built in 1928, has taken steps intended to accommodate people with disabilities. Braille lettering has been added, as have signs directing visitors to accessible entrances.

At one, a concrete ramp leads up to the door to the police department. A sign on the door says "Push hard."

But "there's no way to get in the door in a wheelchair if you have to push," village resident John Raynor told us. "If you push you go backwards."

The other entrance, at the rear, doesn't have an automatic door opener. Instead, a bell can be pressed to summon an employee to open the door.

Raynor pointed out other obstacles, including these:

The counter at the village clerk's office isn't low enough to accommodate anyone in a wheelchair. Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines say it needs a section no more than 36 inches high.

In the courtroom, a gate in the railing that separates the judge's bench from spectator seating is too narrow to permit wheelchair passage.

We accompanied Village Mayor Robert Kennedy on a walk through the building in December. Later, he told us that the payment counter at the clerk's office will be examined and, if possible, a section will be lowered. But the rear door won't be outfitted with an automatic opener because of security issues; the police department uses that door.

"There's always someone available" to open the door, Village Attorney Howard Colton said. "I know that Mayor Kennedy made sure that it is always in operation during business hours" as well as village board meetings.

The courtroom gate can be avoided by entering through a door next to the judge, Colton said, and a conference can be held "right at the bench."

That's an example of how equal access, the aim of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, is denied, Raynor said. "I would really feel odd" sitting next to a judge instead of appearing in front of the bench, he said, adding: "The whole idea of the ADA is to make the handicapped invisible."

An expert on disability law agrees.

"Any time there is a difference between what a handicapped person has to do and what an average person can do -- it should raise a red flag," said Gregory Jones, former senior attorney with the state Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities.

Most of Raynor's concerns have merit, said Matthew Dwyer, director of Nassau County's Office for the Physically Challenged. Those concerns target not only equal access in the building but also insufficient handicapped parking in the village and businesses that don't meet public-access standards.

Raynor has encountered people skeptical of the need for handicapped parking and accessible doorways, especially for anyone who doesn't rely on a wheelchair. "I tell them what about the guy who has one lung who can't walk more than 15 feet, or the guy with a bad heart or the guy like myself with one leg," he said.

Dwyer said Raynor's complaints came to his attention during the previous village administration. "Mayor Kennedy's administration has been more receptive to the concerns and appears to be taking positive steps" to meet ADA standards and state codes, he said.

Freeport is moving ahead with another issue Raynor raised: The village board voted in November to renovate a first-floor restroom to meet ADA standards. And Kennedy told us the courtroom gate would be modified if required.

Which raises a question: Who's in charge of requiring such changes?

When it comes to enforcing laws regarding access, state and federal agencies have jurisdiction. Dwyer said he has discussed the options with Raynor.

One program, Project Civic Access at the U.S. Justice Department, initiates compliance reviews in response to citizen complaints as well as on its own, a spokesman told us. The program focuses on "eliminating physical and communication barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in community life," according to the ADA website.

Some municipal governing units -- zoning boards, building and code inspectors, even architectural review boards -- "don't grasp the importance of proper implementation of accessibility laws," Dwyer said, and lack of enforcement has "a negative impact on the community."

The front door at Village Hall sits atop two sets of steps. Could it be adapted to accommodate everyone? "The mayor is looking into that as well," Colton said.

As Jones sees it, "There has to be a really good reason" for separate entrances and calling for assistance in order to get into a building. It's just the sort of arrangement, he said, that raises a red flag.


That 1994 traffic ticket we mentioned recently has been resolved, and the driver's license is intact.

The ticket is being dismissed.

It's likely the officer who issued it, and whose testimony would be required at a trial, is no longer with the police department, Nassau County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency Executive Director John Marks said.

A notice of license suspension had been mailed to the Lynbrook home of Eileen Appel, addressed to her daughter, Jacqueline, who moved away years ago. The notice said Jacqueline's license would be suspended if the ticket wasn't paid by early this month.

Eileen Appel paid the $105 fine as the deadline approached, then wound up speaking with Marks. She'll get back $75, Marks told us. The county will keep the $30 administrative fee.


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