Asbury Park Press
October 27, 2006
Section: LIFE
Page: 01G 

Disabled urge better compliance with spirit and letter of ADA
LINDA WALLS/CORRESPONDENT

They came with issues handicapped parking, transportation, inaccessible buildings.
Area residents using wheelchairs and other assistive equipment, their caregivers, friends and family gathered at a meeting hall in Freehold earlier this month and described to various code enforcement officers the obstacles they face accessing shopping malls, senior centers, doctors offices and restaurant bathrooms.

Still, the goal of the group was not to accuse or confront, but enlighten.

"This is not a "gotcha!' meeting," Rhoda Yucht assured the 14 representatives from 17 towns who attended the four-hour ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Compliance Workshop sponsored by CentraState Medical Center and held at the hospital in Freehold Township.

"We're trying to develop a process where we can work together without becoming adversaries," said Yucht, executive director of CACOD (Consumer Advisory Council of the Disabled), which organized the event. The session was a first, said Len Nachbar, president of the Freehold-based CACOD and parent of a 34-year-old woman with dystonia.

"We were encouraged that so many were interested in coming to learn about enforcing laws for people with disabilities. Later we hope to take this to larger businesses, corporations, banks and shopping centers to spread awareness and adherence," he said.

On the agenda was a short film produced by the federal Department of Justice listing common and unjustifiable excuses from proprietors for not complying with ADA regulations.

And speakers including Freehold Township Administrator Tom Antus; Alex Buono, executive director of Monmouth County Office on Disability; and William Ditto, director of the New Jersey Department of Human Services' Disability Services office discussed government's role in ADA enforcement.

Buono, who has multiple sclerosis, also shared anecdotes of his experiences. For instance, he recalled a dinner meeting at a restaurant where "I had to control my intake of liquids because I knew the bathroom was inaccessible" for his wheelchair, he said.

Audience members added more stories:

Leonia Bialecki, 71, of Freehold has been using a wheelchair for 13 years. Although her son often drives her to appointments in her lift-equipped van, he works and isn't always available, she said. "Buses going to the senior center don't have lifts, which is difficult to accept because it's really the only way I can get out to socialize." The schedule for SCAT (Special Citizens Area Transportation) buses which do have wheelchair lifts doesn't match the center's hours, she added.

Holding an alphabet board over her head to spell out her comments, Marie Mauger of Farmingdale told officials: "I have a big problem with people who get these handicapped parking permits who don't deserve them." Mauger, 38, uses a wheelchair and also lost the ability to speak as the result of a traumatic brain injury from an auto accident.

The allocation of funds usually dictates who receives equipment and services, Ditto said, noting the Monmouth County SCAT program is paid from funds for seniors.

"Unfortunately, because of the way the funding and service systems are set up, people get different treatment because of age. Seniors and disabilities shouldn't be lumped together." He said disability should be the common denominator and the funds allocated for disabled people of all ages.

And a major problem with the distribution of handicapped parking placards, Ditto said, is physicians "who sign off on them when a patient hands them the form, regardless of whether they meet the criteria." To reduce the practice, his office is suggesting the Division of Motor Vehicles levy fines on those physicians.

In the cities, placards are sometimes sold on the streets after a disabled person dies, so the Disability Services office is recommending a recertifying process and attaching photograph identification to the placards, Ditto added.

To enforce ADA laws in your community, the state, county and local officials recommended appealing first to the management of the offending public or private property with a logical argument, and if that fails, file a complaint. You can start with the local municipality, but the Department of Justice is the enforcement agency for the ADA.

To file a complaint with the Department of Justice, call (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 TTY.

Jennifer Perry, compliance specialist for the United Spinal Association (formerly Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association), said her agency will assist people seeking to file a complaint.

ON THE WEB: Visit www.app.com for a story about indefensible excuses for ignoring ADA requirements.

E-mail Linda Walls at doable@optonline.com