The Natick Commission on Disability is designed to look out for town residents. Anyone can file an accessibility complaint with this seven-member body, which reviews these issues and works towards more inclusive and accessible solutions.
Paul Carew has served as Natick’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator for the past 14 years. In this role, he is the first person to receive complaints about accessibility. These include sidewalks without a curb cut, a lack of mobility in town forests, and missing signs or faded markings in a handicap parking space. After receiving complaints, Carew travels to the area of the problem and performs an initial inspection. He summarizes these issues and resolutions and brings up unresolved problems to fix at meetings of the Commission on Disability, of which the ADA Coordinator is always a member. A disabled veteran himself—and Natick’s Director of Veteran Services, among a host of related positions—Carew is one of four disabled members of the Commission.
In addition to Carew’s reports, each monthly meeting of the Commission includes a report from Chair Lori Zalt and Treasurer Aaron Spelker.
The Commission had a recent win: it secured a grant to conduct a professional audit of Natick to identify accessibility concerns in multiple areas of the town. This inspection started with the busiest public buildings in town, such as the post office, schools, and town hall. They will look at open spaces, including sports fields, tennis courts, and playgrounds next.
In fact, building more accessible playgrounds is a goal of the Commission’s. Currently, the closest 100% accessible playground is in Sudbury. Carew remembers being wowed by this structure. “It was amazing. They had everything a normal playground had, plus it was safe,” he recalled. In order to qualify as fully accessible, a playground must be “completely flawless as far as movement and stepping,” said Carew. It must be navigable by people in wheelchairs and those with mobility aids such as crutches and walkers, who need to be able to get in, out, and around the playground without tripping.
The playground project is something the Commission hopes to get involved in, but it is currently working on another important goal: making Natick’s bathroom doors more accessible.
Most public bathroom doors around town are not in compliance with the law. For instance, they don’t have an automatic door opener that can be reached by a person in a wheelchair on at least one bathroom for each gender. It is incredibly embarrassing for individuals who use wheelchairs to have to ask for help getting into the bathroom, Carew said.
Even once they’ve gotten the door to the bathroom open, people in wheelchairs often face more accessibility issues. Stall doors are often not wide enough for a wheelchair to squeeze through. Further, there are often no sinks low enough to be reached from a wheelchair.
According to Carew, the town government is very responsive when he brings up accessibility issues and possible solutions.
The Commission is working to engage more with the public. It has tables at events like Natick Days, and recently launched a redesigned website thanks to the efforts of three Natick High School students. These changes give Carew hope for the future of the Commission on Disability, which has far fewer members now than it once did.
Carew said the majority of Natick residents are unaware that they have a Commission on Disability to serve their needs. He urges people to reach out about any issues they encounter.
Carew can be reached at 508-647-6545 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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