Doable: Advocacy group gains access one step at a time

by Linda Walls,  Published in the Asbury Park Press 8/11/04

A small group of disability advocates who have chided -- and sometimes sued -- local business owners over inaccessible buildings will hand out awards today to those who demonstrated they were listening.

Equalizers Access Awards will be presented this afternoon mostly to people in the medical community, plus a police lieutenant, a private citizen, a newspaper and the owner of a Fair Haven restaurant at which the ceremony will be held.

ADA compliance aside, all were selected by the Middletown-based Equalizers for making changes that show an attitude of acceptance and inclusion for people with disabilities, said Carolyn Schwebel, co-chair of the 10 year-old grass-roots group. And Schwebel was the person most likely raising the accessibility issues, since many of the doctors cited are her own.

The facilities include the office of Dr. David Drout, of Riverview Medical Associates, which was inaccessible, Schwebel said. "But when he moved to the new place in Tinton Falls, he asked me to come and review the design," which is completely accessible, she said.

The Middletown Animal Hospital operated by her pets' doctors -- Henry Ferris and Francisco Velazquez -- featured a porch and no railings, but was renovated to include two handicapped parking places and a much more accessible building, Schwebel said. "It even has an accessible employee area, which is something most people don't think of, that they may want to hire someone with a disability someday."

A New York Times column of restaurant reviews will receive an award for improvements made "after I leaned on them," Schwebel said. She called the paper on its "accessible" label of a restaurant with a four-step entrance, and the change in accessibility reporting was immediate, she said. "They've become less political and more honest in their reviews."

Sea Girt resident Paul Hooker will be honored for his years of work with Challenged Youth Sports Inc. programs and the recently opened barrier-free playground at Dorbrook Park in Colts Neck.

Middletown Police Lt. Eugene Hannafey is being recognized for his strong enforcement of accessible parking spaces and support for building safety and accessibility. And Richard Bahaurian, owner of the Nauvoo Grill Club in Fair Haven, was named for providing accessible bathrooms, parking and a stair climber at his restaurant.

Also, two "not-perfect-accessibility-but-very-willing-to-make-accommodations" awards will be given out: one for massage therapist Guenter Klose of Klose Training, Red Bank, who made house calls to patients unable to access his building, and the other to Adler Family Dental, Matawan, which installed grab bars, door and faucet-lever handles and a high toilet in the building's small bathroom and wheelchair access to the dental chair.

"We appreciate the attitude, that they are doing what they can and maybe next renovation they'll be completely accessible," Schwebel said.

The alterations are also great for business. "We've heard business owners or doctors say 'We don't need this because we don't have anyone with disabilities coming here.' And, of course, that's why they don't."

Linda Walls is a parent and grandparent of people with disabilities ranging from deafness and Tourette's syndrome to cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Her column appears in the Accent on Food section. Write to her at the Asbury Park Press, 3601 Highway 66, Neptune, NJ 07754, or e-mail