By Cary Africk
Montclair is a town with a big heart. We stand up for those less fortunate and respond with hard work and commitment. We seek to do “the right thing.”
We support diversity. We support special education by believing in our children who need help. We support refugees fleeing war-torn countries.
All these “ideals” have constituencies. People ready to do the hard work and educate the public.
But there is one group that has no significant constituency. No constituency to stand up at meetings with 30 others “demanding” that the Town take action.
The People with Disabilities (PWD) population.
They simply are not visible on people’s “radar.” Our town’s conversations don’t often include PWD, and sometimes, when they do, it’s only to complain about the “hardship” PWD make for the rest of the town by forcing the township to do things. Like putting in curb ramps. Or modifying public restrooms. Or making changes to a school auditorium so that a wheelchair-bound grandmother can watch her granddaughter perform on stage for the first time.
The disabled have rights. Over 25 years ago Congress passed The Americans with Disability Act. The Act was signed by a Republican President, George H. W. Bush, and received bipartisan support.
So “even if” people ignored the moral imperative, there was (and is) federal and state legislation.
In Montclair we want to encourage people to live here well into their senior years. For many who speak of this, they speak of the financial benefits to the town. Seniors don’t use services. They don’t put their kids into the public schools. They just give us their money.
But many seniors are disabled. And many of the common obstructions people with disabilities encounter may be remedied at no cost, such as keeping parked cars, trash and sporting equipment out of public rights of way, especially sidewalks.
And remember ADA compliance is a “win” for EVERYONE, including able-bodied runners, caregivers pushing baby carriages, dog walkers, children walking to and from school and bus stops.
ADA compliance increases property values, improves health, increases senior involvement, lessens parking and traffic issues.
And we shouldn’t forget that noncompliance of ADA regulations can cost a town both Federal Highway Administration funding for streets, as well as Safe Routes to Schools funding. It can also cost a town in terms of expensive lawsuits should someone be injured.
In addition to being a “senior friendly” town, it would be wise to also be a “disability friendly” town.
Montclair was sued in 2013 for failing to implement requirements of the quarter-century-old ADA act. Montclair paid a significant sum in legal fees defending itself. In 2015 a settlement was reached. Montclair still hasn’t entirely satisfied the terms of settlement.
But it didn’t start there. Council meeting agendas from 1993 show discussions of the need to implement ADA compliance.
Disability rights are civil rights. Isn’t it time we act?