Commission on Disabilities in full swing; Town Meeting accommodations in the works

Photo by Josh Appel

April 29, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer

Since the Commission on Disabilities was reactivated four months ago, great strides have already been made to improve the lives of people with disabilities in Hingham.

These include working with the Selectmen's office to increase accessibility to all aspects of town government, with a focus on the May 8 Town Meeting. (See below for details.)

Chair Diane DeNapoli provided an update to the Selectmen last night, explaining that the commission goes by the definition that any condition is considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on normal day-to-day activity, including a wide range of mental health issues as well as more obvious physical disabilities.

The five-member volunteer board, comprised largely of Hingham residents with disabilities, holds monthly meetings that are open to the public.

The COD's purpose is to:
* promote full integration of individuals with disabilities into the community;
* provide information and referrals to individuals, businesses, and organizations in all matters pertaining to disabilities issues;
* participate in a variety of forums and media events to develop public awareness of individuals with disabilities and to encourage compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act;
* coordinate or carry out programs designed to meet the problems of individuals with disabilities in coordination with Massachusetts Office on Disability programs.

In line with that mission, Town Meeting plans are underway to increase the number of parking spaces for handicapped individuals, add signage for parking and access, ensure mobility-friendly seating for all participants, provide listening devices and assistance on the field as needed, and ahead of time, to provide large-font Town Meeting warrants upon request from the Selectmen's office.

To discuss and reserve an accommodation for that day, email townadministra[email protected] or call (781) 741-1451.

The COD will continue to reach out to stakeholders "to forge open and cooperative dialogue about improving the lives of people with disabilities in our community," DeNapoli said.

The commission would like to add members to the board to better represent Hingham's disabled senior population -- age 60 and over.

DeNapoli noted that a large amount of the town's disabled residents are older citizens, and that 620 Hingham Public Schools students have Individualized Education programs to meet their special needs.

The COD is conducting a survey for those with disabilities or who have a loved one with disabilities to allow the commission to better respond to the needs of the community. All information is confidential. Visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WYDKK72 to participate.

A paper version of the survey will be included in the June Hingham Municipal Lighting Plant bills.

Data from the survey will be analyzed and prioritized to ensure that the commission's work is focused on the needs of residents with disabilities.

The commission will also research potential public and private funding mechanisms.

Private, tax-deductible donations are welcome from interested residents and businesses. "Many local CODS are funded by fees from handicapped-parking violations, but we don't have many of those," DeNapoli said.

Other commission members include Co-Chair Stephanie Gertz, Megan Baker, Maria O'Laughlin, and Keith Jermyn.

Resources and information about the commission are available on the town website. Anyone with comments, questions, or suggestions may email [email protected]

"Based on the progress already made, I predict this will be a high-performing group," Selectmen Chair Mary Power said.
Commission meetings are open to the public and are posted on the town website.

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