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Special needs task force to study ways to help the disabled

Clifford Hymowitz, center, the liason to the new

Clifford Hymowitz, center, the liason to the new advisory committee tasked to make Brookhaven more accommodating for its disabled residents, talks with task force members, Hedi Flickstein, second right, Glenn Campbell, right, and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine, at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville on Oct. 16, 2014. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

An advisory committee with a goal to make Brookhaven Town more accommodating for its disabled residents is focusing on a number of changes, including televising council meetings with closed captioning and installing wheelchair-accessible swings in some town parks.

The special needs task force consists of 13 appointed members and was established by the Brookhaven Town Council on Sept. 30. The committee will have its first meeting on Nov. 6 at 4 p.m. in Town Hall in Farmingville.

Nearly 8.6 percent of Brookhaven residents had some disability in 2012, according to an American Community Survey. Brookhaven officials say these include residents who have learning disabilities and who use wheelchairs.

The daily challenges they, along with their families and caregivers, face prompted the town to form the committee, Brookhaven officials said. Coram resident Dawn Cookler, 49, a committee member, wants to make it easier for the disabled to get around Brookhaven, Long Island's largest town.

"A lot of people don't understand what wheelchair accessible means, so I would like to be able to explain that to people, so that more places are available for people with disabilities," said Cookler, who uses a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy.

At its first meeting, officials said, the committee will draw up a mission statement and name a chairperson and secretary.

Brookhaven's disabled community is fragmented because those with disabilities tend to befriend others with the same disability, said Cliff Hymowitz, the town's liaison with the committee. He said "the nature and composition of the board will bring everyone together."

Diane Weir, who oversees Brookhaven's Housing and Human Services Department, under which the task force will operate, said the committee will make recommendations, help to improve facilities and develop programs for residents with special needs.

That is welcome news for attorney Glenn Campbell, 45, who was in a bicycle accident 30 years ago that left him paralyzed. As a committee member, he said, his goal is to help improve Brookhaven for the disabled.

"Being a part of this committee, hopefully we can review . . . town policy and see if we can't make a difference and make changes where there needs to be change," said Campbell, of Coram.

"[We need] to be sure that everyone has the same rights and abilities to gain access to things able-bodied people can take part in," he said.

Cookler said residents who use wheelchairs can navigate Brookhaven more easily today than they could three decades ago.

Still, town officials said, more needs to be done.

"We're looking at all options to help," Weir said.

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