Connecticut: Still Unready for Independent Living

Joseph A. Luciano Sr., Disability Rights Action Group of CT

ADA compliance in my community (Seymour) and most of Connecticut’s other 168 hasn’t changed much since the diatribe I wrote in 2014.

In my hometown, 26 years, or 9,783 days of opportunities on the road to accessibility—and, therefore, achieving status as a Livable Community—have been wasted. 9,783 days! Most merchants, their employees and property owners still do not know about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Or they don’t care—or have little incentive to care. Even today, community leaders have no incentive to provide educational town meetings, one-on-one counseling, or materials such as guides, or instructional videos. Incidentally, educational materials are free at ADA.gov.

Educating businesses about access should be community leaders’ top priority. Members of boards and committees themselves should be learning regulations on access and be instructing merchants. Or delegate someone with expert ADA knowledge to lead the way. Those who don’t know or who don’t care should just get out of the way. Or get pushed out of the way.

The Connecticut Main Street Center organization should end giving awards for “pretty” downtowns; it should instead give awards for ADA compliance or accessibility! Businesses that make themselves accessible open the market to consumers of all abilities and increase local economic development.
The program “Money Follows the Person” has had Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s strong support to move thousands of eligible persons out of nursing homes into independent living. This initiative, targeted for completion by 2016, is already saving government hundreds of millions a year. But there’s a catch: Independent living, or Aging in Place, requires communities to be ready as “livable” communities. (Communities become livable when their leadership implements ADA standards.)

My community’s leadership recently (and inexplicably) approved more senior/handicapped housing despite obvious community un-readiness for independent living. Result: All that seniors and persons with disabilities now living here can do is use their canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters to merely “stroll” around, looking into inaccessible shops.

Go figure.

To contact Disability Rights Action Group of Connecticut: DRAGconnecticut@yahoo.com, (203) 463-8323.

State Commission on Human Rights Files ADA Complaint against Seymour Police Dept.

by Joe Luciano, Founder, Disability Rights Action Group of CT

The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities has filed an ADA complaint (CHRO Case 1730312) on my behalf against Seymour Police Department, which will have thirty days to answer. Citing Conn. General Statute § 46a-64, the complaint charges that a Seymour police officer expressed bigotry by mocking my mobility device, a power (wheel)chair, by calling it a “little cart” and by identifying me to other officers as “our motorized complainant” who needs to be “appeased.”

When, on Nov. 10, I called to report vehicles parked at Seymour’s Fishway Park blocking access on the sidewalk, the desk officer belittled my complaint, saying, “You can’t get your ‘little cart’ up on the sidewalk?” When I corrected him by saying, “It’s not a cart; it’s a power chair,” the officer said curtly, “Same thing!” Though I had identified myself by name and did not reveal I use a power chair for mobility, in conversations with other officers he referred to me as the “motorized complainant.” I feel he has a grudge against me either because I am a disabled person or openly an advocate for older persons. Or perhaps he has contempt for civil rights that the ADA of 1990 provides.

In settlement proceedings I will demand, among other things, that Seymour’s police department obtain—from a recognized training and development organization—sensitivity training to enable respectful police encounters with persons with disabilities and ADA education so that officers can learn about, and enforce, responsibilities and rights of persons with disabilities.

In my opinion, Seymour PD needs to accept that we older persons are here to stay. The community should get used to seeing, not ‘little carts’ drawn by ponies, but scooters, walkers, and wheelchairs of all kinds downtown. We live there.

DRAGconnecticut@yahoo.com

Seymour’s Public Comment Policy Discriminates Against Disabled Citizens

This article is written by Joseph A. Luciano, Disability Rights Action Group of CT about himself.

Seymour Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and elder rights advocate Joe Luciano, says his hometown treats public comments provided by citizens with disabilities differently than those given by citizens without disabilities. He has filed an ADA discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice against the Town of Seymour and its first selectman, Kurt Miller.

“Citizens who appear in person to speak their comments have an unfair advantage,” says Luciano. “Their comments are entered into meeting minutes in detail. Mine, however, are entered merely as ‘Correspondence received,’” Luciano says. “All state municipalities, including Seymour, must accommodate persons with disabilities,” he says.

Luciano is unable to travel to evening town meetings because there is no wheelchair transport when meetings begin and end. So he sends his public comment by email and snail mail. Paratransport services are not provided at night in Seymour. “While I use my wheelchair in daylight to ride to downtown places, I do so at risk of life and limb riding in streets and gutters. Absent crosswalks, an impassable sidewalk on DeForest, absent curbcuts—and unremoved snow—are mobility barriers blocking access to sidewalks. At night I cannot safely travel the block and a half to town hall to speak my public comment,” says Luciano.

According to Luciano, the pitfalls and shortcomings of the snow-removal ordinance addressed in his emailed public comment were not entered into the minutes, which show comments in detail spoken by other citizens who presented theirs. “The minutes omitted essential points of my comment. That is, the same property owners year after year flout the snow removal ordinance. They do so with impunity because town safety authorities do not monitor and enforce compliance of ordinance even though enforcement with fines of up to $100 a day is mandated. Sidewalks with unremoved snow are mobility barriers,” explains Luciano.

According to Luciano, barriers to public accommodations and public services have inflicted staggering economic and social costs on American society and have undermined our well-intentioned efforts to educate, rehabilitate, and employ individuals with disabilities. Municipalities that refuse to accommodate persons with disabilities equally in public meetings prevent society from benefiting from the knowledge, skills and of PWDs. “The ADA guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.” DRAGconnecticut@yahoo.com (203) 463-8323.

Seniors at Risk in Seymour: Elder Abuse at Columbus Street Senior/Handicapped Housing

by Joseph A. Luciano, Disability Rights Action Group of CT

Kimberly Dulka, owner of the All-American Valley General Store, has become principal advocate for the safety and rights of 12 handicapped seniors living in senior housing at 16 Bank Street (entrance on Columbus St.). Inaction of town officials has these seniors in harm’s way.

Architect/builder/developer Joe Migani has begun construction of more senior/handicapped housing on the very parking lot that was originally designated as parking not only for these resident seniors, but also for the proprietors of three established businesses: the General Store, an antique shop and a tea and pastry restaurant.

A picture of the construction site by author Joe Luciano

A picture of the construction site by author Joe Luciano

During construction, which is expected to last 18 months, these seniors have been advised by town safety officials to use municipal parking lots that officials deem “convenient.” However, access routes are in violation of ADA and state safety standards. Going to the nearest lot forces seniors to travel over earth and rubble and areas where sidewalks and curb cuts are absent. Then seniors have to pass over a state highway gutter between parked vehicles and fast-moving traffic. Routes to the distant (more than 1,000 feet) lots, besides being without crosswalks and curb cuts, are heaved like a roller coaster and are impassable to wheelchairs because of broken sidewalks. Also sidewalks that begin with a ramp do not have curb cuts at the other end. Town officials have sparked the ire of businesses by giving these seniors placards or stickers entitling them to park anywhere, thus using spaces needed for customers.

Questionable, if not illegal, decisions or approvals at planning and zoning meetings (some informal) have been dis-covered in Dulka’s review of minutes. State auditors have been asked to investigate whether terms of grants and loans are being followed. Many town citizens are backing Dulka’s petition to call for a special town meeting to stop construction as they believe this project is violating zoning laws and will cause inestimable damage to economic development, parking, businesses, as well as the health and well being of these senior/disabled residents. PAR readers and members: please consider signing and commenting on the petition at http://www.change.org/p/dannel-malloy-special-meeting-for-38-columbus-st-seymour-project-affecting-seniors-businesses-parking.

For updates and to get involved, contact  Joseph A. Luciano, (203) 463-8323, DRAGconnecticut@yahoo.com.

A Doorbell Would Be a Nice Touch | Joe Luciano

by Joe Luciano, Founder, Disability Rights Action Group of CT

Seymour’s inaccessible post office continues to be unresponsive to its customers with disabilities unable to climb the mountainous steps to its public lobby.

Channel 8 News and the New Haven Register covered the May 13 rally to bring attention to the postmaster’s refusal to provide equal access to customers with disabilities. (The post office facility at 91 Main St. has a long steep staircase at its entrance with no ramp, lift, or other means for persons with limited mobility to get inside. For years, customers with disabilities used a service ramp at the rear of the building but the postmaster suddenly shut it down.)

The USPS valley supervisor established only one way for handicapped customers to obtain service: customers must telephone a “dedicated” number to request sidewalk service. This is unacceptable: there is no sign with instructions visible to arriving customers; the number is not publicized; this does not work for people without cell phones or unable to use one; the sidewalk area is hazardous; and the dedicated number is not dedicated; it’s the general number, often busy.

“The Postmaster is hiding behind the letter of the ADA, ignoring the fact that the USPS is required by Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act to make its services accessible to customers with disabilities,” said Marc Anthony Gallucci, Executive Director of the Center for Disability Rights.

Disability Rights Action Group  has sent multiple requests to local and federal USPS officials asking, in the very least, for a door bell and signage telling the handicapped how to obtain service. No USPS official has responded to DRAG’s requests, in keeping with their customer service attitude.

PAR readers interested in joining our next rally should email their contact information to DRAGconnecticut@yahoo.com.