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Commission on Disability

Here, Lenny Duquette, Hannah Forbes and Emily Duquette enjoy a stroll on the new walkway at the Little League complex on harpin Street that features accessibility improvements.

By David Dunbar
It will have been 34 years on July 26 since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed and became a federal law. Among many other things, the ADA specified that Municipal Commissions on Disability be established in cities and towns across the U.S.
And, about 25 years ago, Bellingham set up its Commission on Disability.   
It advises town government on the local disability community’s needs. It informs municipal officials about accessibility concerns and best practices for inclusion of people with disabilities in municipal programs, services, and facilities. Specific priorities and actions depend on the needs of the disability community.
Denis Fraine is Interim Town Manager and a member of the Commission on Disability. “I have a responsibility to make sure equal access is provided and that people have an opportunity to let us know what we’re missing.”
In that regard, the Commission meets at least four times a year to consider requests, complaints, new information. Larry Sposato is the Town Clerk and a Commission member. He explains that people don’t have to wait for a public meeting to ask questions. “They can contact either Denis or me anytime,” he adds.
Fraine recalls a “blind individual who regularly had to cross busy Hartford Avenue. We got an audible signal installed for this person’s safety.” An accessible swing was set up at Silverlake Park, “and now we’re looking at putting one in at Arcand Park, too.”
On the U.S. Department of Labor’s website, you will find “disability” defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the disabled.” You’ll also find information about wheelchair mobility products, legal and advocacy resources, independent living, service animals, and much more.
“We constantly look at town properties,” says Fraine, “to make sure they are accessible to all.”  Sposato adds that “sometimes we can’t act right away because a condition or situation has been grandfathered in.”
An architect’s study from years ago “gives us ideas about things to work on,” says Fraine. “One project is at the ball fields behind the high school and the middle school. We have a half-million dollar grant to create a walking path all the way around the fields, and construction will begin next year.”

“At the Town Common,” Sposato explains, “we’ve created more parking spaces for people that use wheelchairs and walkers.” At the schools, water fountains have been put in and curb-cuts made to improve access.
“I’d like to see a collaboration between our Commission and the town’s new Age and Dementia Friendly Task Force,” says Sposato. “We need to understand a person’s circumstances because the disability may not be visible, like hearing or sight or dementia.”
The town’s Commission on Disability includes Fraine, Sposato, the building inspector, the Department of Public Works Director, and the Human Resources Director.
For more information, visit and click on Commission on Disability. The U.S. Department of Labor’s website has details about the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Commonwealth’s site has information about disability commissions.
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