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Seymour Man Says Downtown Is Not Accessible By Wheelchair
by Eugene Driscoll | Mar 4, 2013 8:32 pm
Posted to: Seymour
He uses a wheelchair and has the use of just one arm and one leg, yet 74-year-old Joseph Luciano can play jazz piano, author online cookbooks and pen newspaper columns advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.
What can’t he do?
Get into Seymour Town Hall or the post office across the street.
Luciano recently filed a complaint against First Selectman Kurt Miller and the Town of Seymour with the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. The commission hears complaints on alleged discriminatory practices.
Luciano, a downtown Seymour resident since 2011, contends it’s far too difficult to navigate the sidewalks of his neighborhood or get into the many shops that line the streets.
Since moving to Seymour, Luciano said he has been constantly frustrated by an array of obstacles to his mobility — and he’s been documenting those obstacles by posting photos on his Facebook page.
The photos — taken of private and public properties — include:
- Busted sidewalks
- A sidewalk that suddenly ends, giving way to gravel and dirt
- A crosswalk that leads directly to a curb which can’t be navigated by a wheelchair
- Placards promoting local shops that block the sidewalk
- Businesses in old buildings that don’t have an entrance for people in wheelchairs
Some of the conditions documented in the photos have been corrected over the last year, but most of the problems still remain, Luciano said.
He said the conditions in downtown Seymour limit his full participation in all aspects of everyday life and are therefore a violation of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. He’s often forced to take his wheelchair onto the public streets, where he risks getting hit by cars.
In his complaint to the state, Luciano even included hand-drawn maps of downtown Seymour, detailing the circuitous route he’s forced to take to avoid tipping over in his wheelchair.
First Selectman Kurt Miller said he was limited on what he could say about Luciano’s specific allegations because the complaint has not been reviewed by the town’s legal eagles.
But, Miller did say town officials have had extensive conversations with Luciano. The town’s economic development director even toured downtown Seymour to get an idea of the challenges.
Furthermore, the town employs a downtown parking attendant who keeps an eye out for obstructions to wheelchairs, such as chairs or large signs outside a business. If an obstruction is spotted, the parking attendant asks that it be moved and talks to the merchant.
The town has been pursuing grants to install an automatic door opener for Seymour Town Hall, the First Selectman said.
The town is also waiting to hear whether they’ll receive a $500,000 grant to redo all the downtown sidewalks, Miller said.
“We’re taking steps to make sure our downtown is handicapped-friendly,” Miller said. “But Mr. Luciano has to understand this all just can’t happen overnight.”
Luciano said the town’s response is simply not adequate and he points to U.S. law as proof.
“It’s been 23 years since the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was signed Aug. 26, 1990. They’ve had plenty of time,” Luciano said.
According to Luciano’s complaint to the state commission, he tried to get into the Seymour Town Hall on Jan. 22 through the handicapped entrance below the First Selectman’s office.
The door does not have a button to push to open it automatically. It also lacks a doorbell.
Luciano could not open the door while also using his motorized wheelchair, so he pounded on the door and waited for someone to answer, according to his complaint.
“On previous occasions, I had successfully used my cell phone to call the First Selectman’s office for help,” Luciano wrote in his complaint. “But, on this date, when no one inside responded to several minutes of my pounding on the door, I attempted to use my cell phone to call for help; but apparently signal strength was insufficient to transmit.”
His fingers freezing, Luciano said he gave up and then rode his wheelchair across the street — which wasn’t easy because of busted curb cuts — to the Seymour Post Office at 91 Main St.
That building’s accessibility to people in wheelchairs is limited to an entrance in the back, at a loading dock, Luciano said. There, his problems with access to a public space continued.
“I (and other persons with disabilities) are denied entry to the ‘public’ lobby to transact our business. Instead, security rules require that we transact our business outside at the top of the ramp,” Luciano said.
He finds the post office situation the most offensive obstacle he encounters.
“Since December 2011, I have been forced to conduct my postal business outside — in summer heat, rain, snow and cold (although recently employees have taken pity by not enforcing security rules and allowed me to enter the indoor part of the loading dock),” Luciano states in his complaint.
The town, through Economic Development Director Fred Messore, has been trying to convince the Postal Service to install a ramp for customers who use wheelchairs.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service said Monday she is researching the issues Luciano faces in Seymour.
Seymour has until March 27 to submit a response to Luciano’s complaint to the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. In general, the commission looks to bring parties together to work toward a common solution.
Miller said officials have been working to address Luciano’s complaints, specifically about busted curb cuts downtown.
“Fred Messore (the economic development director) went around downtown with him, looking at all the handicapped-accessible curb cuts, taking notes. We then sent Public Works out last spring to go through all the curb cuts to repair any that were not smooth or level,” Miller said. “This isn’t something we’ve ignored, but it has to be reasonable.”
Luciano said he’s complaining loudly because he came to Seymour as part of the state-federal “Money Follows the Person” program. The program is aimed to get elderly people with disabilities out of institutions and into communities, which saves the state tons of cash.
Connecticut is supposed to get bigger Medicaid reimbursement for moving people out of institutions. The long-term goal of the program is to bring down health-care costs by having people live independently.
“What’s the point of putting us in communities that are not livable?” Luciano asked.
Huge costs and lawsuits can be avoided if Towns and local businesses pay attention to the ADA. and budget annually for these improvements. An automatic door in Seymour is 23 years over due. Similar improvements are needed in most Towns. Seymour welcomed the housing Downtown, and the savings are real to the State and Federal government. Without personal transportation downtown Seymour and most other small Towns would look pretty challenging to any wheelchair user. In 2013 no one should be forced to find a ramp in the back of a loading dock and ring a bell for service exposed to the weather. The consumer spending of the disabled surely would be welcome at any business one could enter. As a wheelchair user for over 25 years I understand the challenges. Most towns still have a long way to go. I envy Mr. Luciano for speaking up. His claims are valid.
Completely agree that the PO building with its slick excessively steep stairs, curbing, handicap parking, access to INDOOR service are NOT within ADA guidelines. The building is old, but I don’t think it’s been listed on the national registry of historic places. They should leave sorting there but rent a small desk for retail mail service somewhere in the multitude of retail locations in town