The Disabilities Commission wants to ensure public events are accessible to all Pittsfield residents.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Tensions rose and voices carried at a meeting of the Commission on Disabilities last week as some members expressed frustrations over what they perceive to be a lack of accommodations for the disabled at public parks.
"Access really needs to be at the forefront," commission Vice Chairwoman Cathy Carchedi told city Parks and Open Spaces Manager James McGrath. "I just think we really need to revisit access at all of our parks and public events."
The discussion of park accessibility followed a communication to the Parks Commission last month regarding theater performances at Springside Park this summer. While disabilities commissioners said they appreciated that event organizers made the additional effort to consult them on accessibility issues, a rarely undertaken step not required by the city's permitting process, they nonetheless expressed disappointment at what they called the "11th hour" nature of the courtesy call.
While the event in question was fully compliant with the mandates of the federal Americans With Disability Act, the Disabilities Commission indicated Thursday it would like more emphasis to be put on accessibility for the disabled in the event permitting process.
Chairwoman June Hailer asked McGrath if the commissioners could be notified in advance of all park event applications in order to give them an opportunity to weigh in. McGrath said he could forward all new park event requests to the Disabilities Commission, although sign-off by that body is not a required part of the process.
"To what extent the commission wants to get involved in every single park event is your decision," said McGrath. "I'm more than happy to get you the agendas, and you're more than welcome to attend the Parks Commission meetings, and I will speak to you at anytime about any park event."
"Any time an event is held on city property, the city is responsible to make sure that it is accessible," said Carchedi. "The responsibility is then on the person doing the event then to spend the extra money to see that it is accessible."
McGrath said the Parks Commission, which reviews all events, is cognizant of the need for accessibility.
"The thing that bothered me at that meeting is that they were shocked, like access was a new thing," disagreed Carchedi. "The ADA has been the law for over 20 years. I'm really tired of playing this game."
"I think your discussion with them resonated," responded McGrath. "I think in the future you'll see a Parks Commission that is more responsive to accessibility needs.
"I'm not certain how that will impact some of these events," admitted McGrath, acknowledging that the majority of park events permitted are put on as free community offerings by volunteers with little or no budget, and may take place in parts of parks that are simply not topographically possible to access for all individuals.
"In order for such an event to be fully accessible, and to be permitted, is the proposal that the event organizer needs to put in an asphalt pathway through the park?" he said. "How is the physical nature of the park going to be impacted by what needs to get done to accommodate accessibility, what does that cost and who bears that cost? And does that ultimately mean that some of these great community events that we've had in the past, may not happen?"
"These are all questions I have," McGrath continued. "We may need to make some reasonable trade-offs, and I hope that we can take these on a case-by-case basis, with some degree of fairness and flexibility."