Equalizers presents two ADA compliance awards
Group honors Mid’town
construction official,
Black Oak Grill
By Doug mckenzie
Staff Writer

Carolyn Schwebel of the Equalizers presents Michael McEvilly, the manager of the Black Oak Grill in Middletown, with an award honoring the newly-renovated restaurant for its compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

MIDDLETOWN — It’s been nearly 10 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted to give equal rights to people with disabilities.

Since that time, Carolyn Schwebel and the Equalizers, a township-based advocacy group, have been on a mission to inform various property owners that they are in violation of the requirements mandated by the ADA.

Despite her group’s efforts, Schwebel feels that the majority of the requirements are ignored by local businesses, engineers and government officials. That has earned several locations a nomination into the group’s "Hall of Shame," which recognizes properties as violators of the guidelines set forth by the ADA.

Some of the candidates currently in the "Hall of Shame" are the Holmdel municipal complex and the Gloria Nilson real estate building in Shrewsbury, where engineers used Belgian block, which has a bumpy surface, for curb ramps, and Red Bank, where uneven cobblestone crosswalks present potential hazards for people with disabilities.

However, on Thursday the Equalizers had the opportunity to award a different sort of distinction when Schwebel presented the Black Oak Grill, on Route 35 in Middletown, and Joseph Kachinsky, Middletown’s construction official, with the group’s first pair of awards celebrating compliance with ADA standards.

Schwebel said that when the restaurant was renovated, both the business’s owner and Kachinsky made an admirable effort to ensure that the new facility would meet the law’s requirements.

"They certainly went out of their way to ensure compliance," she said. "We want to recognize their efforts as a positive example of what the law requires."

Among the features Schwebel noted as examples of compliance were the facility’s parking spaces for disabled people, which are properly marked and designed, doorways and aisles which are wide enough for wheelchair access, and high toilets and grab bars in the bathrooms.

Schwebel was also complimentary of Kachinsky, whom she said has made compliance with ADA standards a priority since becoming the township’s inspector over a year ago.

Kachinsky agreed with Schwebel that the majority of people don’t always heed ADA requirements.

"It just doesn’t get the recognition that it should," he said. "Some people take things for granted when they don’t have a disability. And others think they can get away with it if they don’t meet the standards."

Kachinsky said that he has instructed his inspectors to give notice to property owners who are not in compliance with the ADA. Then, depending on the violation, the township usually allows between two weeks and 30 days to fix the violation, or it will impose a penalty of up to $1,000 a week. However, he said most property owners respond to the notice almost immediately.

The Black Oak Grill, however, made an effort to meet compliance with the ADA from the beginning, according to the restaurant’s manager, Michael McEvilly.

According to McEvilly, when the building, which was formerly Sebastian’s Pub, was in the middle of its one and a half year, $1 million renovation project, ADA requirements were constantly observed. The restaurant’s designers were aware of the requirements because the Black Oak’s sister company is a member of the New Jersey Builder’s Association and the New Jersey Restaurant Association, which promotes compliance with the act.

"Our company is always very observant of the laws and takes a practicable approach to the needs of all of our customers," he said. "It’s really a common sense way of handling a business to be able to accommodate everyone."

Schwebel agreed with McEvilly’s approach of meeting the ADA requirements during construction rather than fixing the facility after completion.

"It’s never as easy to fix things as it is to do it right the first time," she said.