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Dec 17, 2014







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Spotlight: Complete Streets Project

Concord’s accessibility makeover 
 
Concord is leading the way for providing accessibility for differently-abled people through its Downtown Complete Street Project (more commonly known as the Main Street Project), which is slated for completion in 2015. The city was one of only a handful across the country that received more than $4.71 million from a federal grant program to make downtown as accessible as possible.
One of the major project goals is improving access and mobility. At the onset, the street had 18 properties that were not considered accessible by Americans with Disabilities Act standards, said Carlos Baia, deputy city manager for developments. The west side of Main Street has a two-step sidewalk, which is not conducive to people with disabilities, he said. At this point planners have found a solution for 17 of the 18 properties.
A second priority was to see if city planners could make the entrances to those 18 properties more accessible as well, which means working in conjunction with property owners. Feedback from business owners was favorable, Baia said. For the public and the private side it offers economic viability and makes businesses more welcoming.
“I think we’re going to be pioneers in terms of a city that made a commitment to use federal money to make improvements, where, end of day, anyone — able-bodied or not — can have access to local infrastructure,” he said.
The project has run into some snags, though. The first two times city planners sought bids from contractors to complete the project, only one company applied each time. The first bid, from F.L. Merrill Construction of Pembroke, was $12.23 million and the second bid, from E.D. Swett Inc. of Concord, was even higher at $13.83 million. The city budget is $6.2 million. Both bids were rejected. 
This third time looking for bids, officials said the city will be relaxing its parameters. 
The new flexibility should not affect plans to make make the downtown universally accessible, though, said Ed Roberge, Concord city planner, because accessibility improvements are key to the project. 
“Accessibility comes in a number of forms — for instance, parking spaces, sidewalk ramps and the elimination of double-step curbs. Those are all base elements we certainly want to keep in the project,” Roberge said. 
 
Q&A: Getting around
Can I get a ride?
 
Brain cancer left New Hampshire native John Fenley blind in one eye and with tunnel vision in the other. He serves on the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities and is president of People First of New Hampshire and a member of Self Advocacy Leadership Team. 
 
What have your experiences with public transportation been like?
I live in Lebanon … which is right near Hanover and the Dartmouth College campus. As a result we have Advance Transit, which is a really reliable and award-winning bus service, funded through Dartmouth. That is kind of a rare occurrence — there aren’t a lot of towns in New Hampshire that have reliable service. ... I have friends who live in the outskirts of town, where the bus doesn’t reach them, so they rely on parents and friends. 
One of the greatest letdowns, even in the towns with bus services, is they do not extend to later at night. So we really don’t have an opportunity to access the nightlife. 
... I’ve been looking at [job opportunities]. ... There was a local job posting for a puzzlemaker, but they are out in the middle of nowhere. That was just one example of where I had an opportunity to do something greater, but I didn’t even bother applying. How would I get there?
 
Do you have other help?
My mom is a huge system of support for me. If I need to get to a doctor’s appointment or what have you, she’s able to answer the call and help get me there. But there’s this sort of feeling of personal guilt. … When you’re cashing in a chip to get a ride from your family, you have to really choose.
 
In situations of limited transportation, what can be done?
Primarily for people with disabilities, when they’ve identified there is an issue with their transportation, it’s  kind of like, oh well, that’s that. … The state only spends 1 percent of its budget toward transportation. You realize: what hope do I have in trying to impact a change in this regard?  And so for me and many members of SALT, when we hit upon the idea of writing a position paper, that was our way to act. Instead of saying, ‘This really stinks,’ we were able to come together and do something about it. … Everyone wrote a personal narrative about a time they felt transportation really failed them. We incorporated bits of that in our letter. … It’s in many ways a woven tapestry of voices.
 
Spotlight:  “How Can I Help You?”
An educational video for healthcare professionals 
 
The New Hampshire Association for the Blind recently helped the Concord Hospital to produce an educational training DVD called How Can I Help You? The video (which you can find on YouTube) focuses on how to assist a person who is visually impaired when being admitted to or visiting a health care office or hospital. The video’s primary audience is volunteers and staff. It explains crucial tools like how to provide a sighted guide and how to assist persons with guide dogs.
“It’s a wonderful educational tool on access to help people have a better patient experience,” said Guy Woodland, vice president of the New Hampshire Association for the Blind.
 
 
Recreation for all
Many of the state’s skiing hot spots, like Loon Mountain, Mount Sunapee, Gunstock and Crotched Mountain, offer adaptive ski programs for individuals with a variety of disabilities. Forty-year-old Corey Kotz, who has multiple sclerosis, discusses his experience skiing with Crotched Mountain Accessible Recreation and Sports Program. 
 
How did you get involved with skiing?
I had been skiing since I was in sixth grade. … I’d taken skiing as far as I could safely take it. So I started snowboarding in 1996, and I snowboarded until 2002. I was diagnosed with MS in 1999. I probably snowboarded for two or three years after my diagnosis. … But as my MS progressed I found myself doing less and less physical things. I was rationalizing that I could do less, which was a bad thing, because it’s not true. It took me a long time to figure that out. In 2009 I got into the adaptive program. … They got me on the mountain on Crotched. That just started the whole thing. 
 
How is adaptive skiing different? 
The adaptive ski is different for every person. Some people can ski with assistive bars. Some can use snowboards. For me, it was safer to be in a sit ski because of my lack of balance. So I ski in a bi-ski. … So you’re sitting. Its a whole different thing. You’re in a machine. It’s a sit-ski with straps. From the beginning you have an instructor who is basically attached to you, who is tethering you. You have one person behind you. Depending on things, they could be directing you. … You may be skiing with two other instructors on top of your lead. Picture yourself sitting in a chair and when you lean it controls what edges you’re on. You kind of lean into the edge and into the turn.
 
What’s the social community like?
It’s a big family. That is the truth. When you first start skiing there you’re welcomed with open arms. Whatever your level, your disability, your level of communication. ... It’s an open door and you leave all your baggage at the door. 

How important it is to you, and what do you love so much about it?
Well, it’s important to me because it’s getting me back into a sport that was and is such a major component in my life. … When you lose your physical abilities you feel like your independence is being taken away, but when you get back on that mountain it’s like you’re getting it back. 
 
 
An etiquette review
The Governor’s Commission on Disability’s goal is to “remove the barriers, architectural, attitudinal or programmatic, that bar persons with disabilities from participating in the mainstream of society.” It has the responsibility to advise the governor and other state agencies in matters of public policy. It helps other state agencies find remedies for accessibility issues, and during the legislative season, it reviews every single piece of legislation to assess whether it will impact people with disabilities. 
If combing through legislation doesn’t seem like enough work, in the past month the commission has also completed the creation of a presentation regarding etiquette, which now functions as a train-the-trainer tool, so that state agency leaders can bring the knowledge back to their employees. It was recently presented to the New Hampshire Department of Resource and Economic Development. 
An example of best practice is always speaking about a person first: “person with a disability” is preferred over “disabled person.”  
“When we speak about an individual with a disability, we always define them with the disability, not the other way around. It’s no longer a blind person, it’s a person who may have hearing loss. It’s a person who may have a developmental disability,” said Chuck Saia, the commission’s executive director. 
 
Other points of etiquette include: 
• The term “handicap parking” is outdated to, and the preferred term is “accessible parking.” 
• It’s not an “electric chair,” it’s a “power chair.”
• Wheelchairs are an extension of a person’s personal space, and therefore should not be touched without permission.  
 
Spotlight: The Phenix Hall Case
Accessibility vs. preservation 
Aaron Ginsberg, staff attorney for the Disabilities Rights Center, applauded Concord’s Complete Streets Project, but he’s also privy to some of the more difficult challenges of improving accessibility to the state’s businesses.
“Our office usually doesn’t hear about the success stories where an owner does a renovation and makes it completely accessible,” he said. “We hear when things are going wrong. … We’ve dealt with a building owner that’s done a renovation and hasn’t made it accessible, and even more with people who haven’t done renovations but easily could ... in a town hall or municipal building, as well as with private [buildings].”
He spoke specifically about the lawsuit known in his office as “The Phenix Hall Case.”
In 2011, attorneys at the Disabilities Rights Center represented three plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the owner of the historic Phenix Hall building in Concord and two businesses in the building.
The building’s owner, Mark Ciborowski, began conducting renovations in 2010 to the front of the building, which opens up on Main Street, but did not include plans to make first-floor storefronts accessible to people in wheelchairs or make other alterations required by the ADA.
“I went to Bagel Works [one of the businesses in the Phenix Hall Building] to see if I could get in, and I had to ask somebody to get into Bagel Works and order what I wanted,” said Dean Davis, one of the plaintiffs, who has cerebral palsy.
According to Jack Crisp, the attorney who represents the Mark Ciborowski trust, the renovations, which included replacing some windows and doors, centering a door, removing metal coverings on the walls to expose the original granite and repairing granite steps to the entrance, did not constitute a major renovation, and so meeting ADA construction renovations should not have been required.
“There have always been two steps to get into retail store space,” Crisp said. “The point was to get back the original appearance of the building.”
The question of preserving historical significance vs. creating accessibility was another point of contention in the case. Ultimately, Ciborowski argued that making the building accessible would compromise its historical value — the 1855 building was visited by Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, as well as other historical people. It’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“[Before renovating] my client very much struggled over trying to balance competing interests, one being accessibility, one being historic significance,” Crisp said. “He’s done a lot to try to be a good steward of the buildings.”
The case eventually ended in a settlement agreement, so a precedent wasn’t set for such conflicts. According to ADA.gov, alterations to historic properties must comply “to the maximum extent feasible.”  However, if following the usual standards would threaten or destroy the historic significance of a feature of the building, alternative standards may be used.
The broad strokes of the settlement were that Phenix Hall would become accessible through the Complete Streets Project.
“Complete Streets was going to do a variety of  other things … including making [the] streets wider and eliminating Phenix Ave., the street that abuts the building. … It was going to be possible to achieve accessibility where it wouldn’t have been possible before,” Crisp said.
If the opportunity to execute renovations through Complete Streets doesn’t pan out, Ciborowski would have to make it accessible through a front sidewalk or rear entrance, Ginsberg said. He agreed to put in an elevator in the back of the building from the ground floor to the first floor.
“It’s really hard to stress enough the importance of really being able to get into public places, both businesses as well as parks and government [buildings],” Ginsberg said.




Can you navigate NH?
A look at the difficulties of getting around the state, plus access-friendly cities, parks and attractions

03/06/14
By Rebecca Fishow rfishow@hippopress.com



 For many of the state’s non-disabled residents, mobility and accessibility to New Hampshire’s wealth of resources — like businesses, parks, museums and roads — doesn’t require much thought. They decide what they want to do and where they want to go, and, generally, it’s easy enough to make it happen. 

But according to the 2008 U.S. Census Bureau, about 11 percent, or 141,000, of New Hampshire residents report having a disability. For them, getting to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment, fostering a healthy social life, and even moving through a house or apartment can be a painstaking endeavor. 
“New Hampshire is a small state, and our resources are limited,” said Guy Woodland, senior vice president of the New Hampshire Association for the Blind. “But I think we all work together to create a network of organizations to work with persons of disability. We do the best we can.”
In 1992, the federal government put the Americans with Disabilities Act into effect. The ADA recognized that historically, people with disabilities are often isolated and segregated. Since then, the state government and local advocacy and service organizations have been working toward universal accessibility — but the process hasn’t been without challenges. So while there have been many advances, the Granite State is still coming up short in some areas, from transportation to building accessibility.
 
Transportation troubles
Access to public transportation is the No. 1 problem facing the state’s disabled population, Woodland said. According to a UNH Survey Center Granite State Poll, no public transportation system exists for more than 80 percent of New Hampshire's communities. 
“It's an issue that needs to be worked on,” Woodland said. “You may be able to access a bus in Manchester or Concord, but you can’t access one between Concord and Laconia. The intercity and intertown options just don’t exist.”
Before 2010, the state matched both rural and urban Federal Transit Administration funding, which amounted to about $180,000 — an amount that was at the bottom of the heap for what most state governments invest in public transportation systems, Woodland said. 
But since 2010,  zero state dollars have gone to funding public transportation options. Funds were not included in the final budget approved by the governor, despite being requested by the NHDOT, said Jeff Butler, NHDOT public transit administrator. Currently most funds used to operate transportation systems come only from local and federal sources.
Every two years, state authorities update what is known as the Ten-Year Transportation Improvement Plan, a long-term maintenance plan that encompasses state highways, railroads, transit, bicycles, pedestrians, and aeronautics programs. The latest plan does call for the DOT to reinstate some of the major transportation funds that were eliminated years ago.
“This year one message that was made clear was funding for transportation is grossly lacking,”said Fred Roberge, vice president of transportation for Easter Seals New Hampshire and chair of the state Coordinating Council for Community Transportation. 
In areas of the state where there are bus services, accommodations are good, said Phyllis Brooks, transportation services coordinator at Granite State Independent Living, a nonprofit that assists people with acquiring the tools needed to live independently. All the bus services in the state’s larger cities, including Manchester, Nashua, Concord and Portsmouth,  are accessible by wheelchair.
The problem lies in the the state’s more rural areas, where bus services have been cut or were never available in the first place. People with disabilities in these areas have difficulty getting to grocery stores and doctors’ appointments. That forces people with certain immobilizing disabilities into larger cities, Brooks said.
“If someone lives in Allenstown where they can afford to live because the tax rate might be better, there’s no service out there,” Brooks said. “It just lacks in that area. I really feel it lacks. There are so many little individual towns not serviced.”
State funding shortfalls have left it up to local nonprofits like Easter Seals and GSIL to offer as much transportation aid — like van services and reimbursements for drivers — as possible.
Making buildings accessible 
“It’s hard to say how New Hampshire does with accessibility to buildings as a whole, because there are so many small entities involved,” said Aaron Ginsberg, staff attorney for the Disabilities Rights Center of  New Hampshire.
Providing universal access to public and private buildings is an ongoing process. Some challenges are geographical. Certain states have more trouble than others, and New Hampshire is likely one of those, said Ginsberg. The state is full of old buildings that were not built with accessibility in mind. It’s also not flat like Kansas or Nebraska; a hilly landscape causes impediments on a topographical level. Winter also causes a whole host of problems. 
“Just having snow and ice on the ground makes it harder even for people that don’t have mobility issues to move around,” Ginsberg said.
The state is required to follow ADA regulations when it comes to making public and private buildings accessible. The ADA regulations treat old buildings differently than new ones. All new construction (including modifications or alterations) must be fully compliant with ADA accessibility guidelines. When it comes to old buildings, accessibility renovations are required if they are not too costly, and for any serious renovation project, universal accessibility requirements must be met, Ginsberg said. 
The older the city’s or town’s buildings, the less accessible it is, said Dean Davis, who has cerebral palsy and has lived in both Manchester and Concord. 
“I think Concord is worse than Manchester because they have old buildings they have to work with, and some old buildings can’t be wheelchair accessible. Manchester is, to me, more wheelchair accessible than Concord.” 
There are also regulations for the number of accessible parking spaces required — a touchy subject, Ginsberg said. 
“You’ll often hear grumbling about accessible parking, and how unfair it is, and how they always see stickers for people who don't look disabled at all,” he said. “But a lot of times disabilities cannot be seen.”
 
Housing helpers
In the past 20 years, as the population has aged, more and more of the state’s housing buildings have been constructed based on universal design and are either fully accessible or require very little modification, said Sarah Hopkins, independent living services manager at Granite State Independent Living. 
“I don’t feel as though there is enough of a focus yet, but it’s definitely growing,” Hopkins said. “The bulk of the state’s housing stock is older, so it is not designed universally to fit a spectrum of physical abilities.”  
When it comes to renovating older houses, common necessities include wider door frames, changes to electrical systems, ramp installations, and adjusted bathrooms and kitchens. Products for these renovations are getting to be more common in local building supply stores, but they can be costly. 
“A ramp can be anywhere from $3,500  to $7,000, so it’s pretty expensive. If you’re on a limited income you need to really pull together resources to make that happen,” Hopkins said. 
The population Hopkins works with are usually from lower income levels, she said. GSIL offers a number of programs to help them. Its Access Modification Program funds renovations ranging from ramp installations and adding stair gliders, to automatic door openers and tub cuts, which modify standard bathtubs for people with disabilities. They have also helped fund needs outside of the scope of home modifications, like paying for wheelchair batteries that are not covered by insurance. 
Hopkins has found that across the state the funding resources for people who need help modifying their homes are decreasing. When clients come to GSIL for help, they are assigned a service coordinator whose first order of business is to seek out other funding for renovation processes before tapping in to GSIL’s funding resources. This could include eligibility for a home and community-based waivers, various types of medical insurance, and other smaller local grants. But there simply aren’t as many options as there used to be, she said.  
“We have noticed a big change over the last three years,” she said. “We fund as a last-resort basis. … It has been getting harder and harder because of the change of the overall environment. Because of the economic situation, some funders are either closing down or finding they have limited funds to grant.”
GSIL’s access modification program tends to run out of funds before the end of the fiscal year in September, Hopkins said. By midsummer, they often have to delay projects until the next fiscal cycle in October. 
 
Parks and rec roundup
“We want to make our parks available to everyone, basically to do the best we can” said Amy Bassett, spokesperson for the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation.
But there are some limitations because of natural features, she said. The accessibility of every park is different. When it comes to building accessible trails, the landscape of some terrain would have to be changed drastically.
Money is also an issue. The department, which is self-funded, has begun to make changes where it can as resources become available. Bringing facilities up to code is a big project, Bassett said, as some of the bathrooms and other buildings are many years old.
“Over the next couple years we’re going to be adding new bathhouses to some parks to replace some of those that are not where they should be,” she said.
Currently, the best way for people to check on the accommodations of state parks is to contact the park they would like to visit and ask officials about accessibility. Years ago, the department had a grid posted on its website that outlined accessibility levels for each state park. But that information became outdated, as ADA standards changed over time, and access to it was discontinued after Parks and Recreation created a new website, Bassett said.
New data may be available soon. The department is hoping to conduct an accessibility assessment within the next year for each state park. It will examine features like camping, pathways, picnic tables, facilities and check-in areas. The assessment will result in better information to the public and a blueprint for necessary improvements, Bassett said.
 
Sight impairment headway
The New Hampshire Association for the Blind’s advocacy committee is working on major issues facing people who are visually impaired.
Voting rights are crucial, said Guy Woodland of the New Hampshire Association for the Blind, who is also legally blind. For the past 10 years, the nonprofit has helped ensure access to voting facilities across the state by working with the Governor's Commission on Disability. Since 2006 there have been laws in place that require access to voting for blind people on a federal and state level for persons who are blind, and the state developed a telephone fax system that allows blind people to vote privately and independently.
“[2006] was the first time I was able to vote privately and independently in my life, so there is a lot being done,” Woodland said.  
At the municipal level, there’s still work to be done to ensure availability of the voting service, Woodland said. Last November, he went to vote at his local municipality election, but it did not offer a sight-impaired option.
And even with the technology in place, limited funding has made it difficult to educate the blind-and visually-impaired public about access to non-visual voting.
“It’s been word of mouth, and the Secretary of State has been doing some outreach, but it’s been limited. There is need for communication,” Woodland said. 
In order for the system to work, the public buildings where elections are held must also be accessible for persons with disabilities. That may include putting contrast lines on steps so a person with limited vision can see them. 
 
As seen in the March 6, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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