“Anyone can become disabled in an instant,” Glenn Hall, a longtime resident of Amagansett and a member of the East Hampton Town and Village Disabilities Advisory Board, said during an interview at his house on Cross Highway overlooking Gardiner’s Bay.
The sobering message is a truth that local government embraces, he said, although budgetary concerns sometimes stand in the way.
It was understandable, he said, that issues of the handicapped can be invisible to people who are not disabled, and the same was true of disabled people’s unknowing insensitivity to the obstacles facing folks with other handicaps. “Each disability has its own barriers. I may not know the concerns of a blind person, or a deaf person.”
Mr. Hall said that in the face of aging infrastructure, he had decided to put out a call asking the disabled in the area to inform his board of any obstacles they face.
If they exist within the town’s jurisdiction, the will to fix them might be there, but the budget might not. Mr. Hall said that his board looked to fix an immediate problem, then find ways to deal with the town or village to address similar problems comprehensively and “not piecemeal.”
He joined the disabilities advisory board in 1993, three years after passage of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The board’s aim was, and is, to assure that local municipalities, and others, follow the guidelines and regulations of the far-reaching statute.
Mr. Hall gave East Hampton Town and East Hampton Village high marks in this regard. He added that this was true within the town’s jurisdiction even before passage of the A.D.A legislation, under the guidance of John Behan, a disabled marine veteran, former state assemblyman, and former town assessor.
Mr. Hall said that as far as he knew, East Hampton Town and Village were the only municipalities that had incorporated the Americans with Disabilities Act into local law. It was done under Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s administration.
The town and village disabilities board pressed for it after it became clear in the early ’90s that neither the town nor village could force the United Artists Theater into compliance with the federal law. So, the board formed the not-for-profit East End Disabilities Group that threatened a boycott of the theater on Memorial Day weekend. “We made that happen.”
“Everyone is on board.” This was a mom and apple pie issue in East Hampton Town, Mr. Hall said, and “the village is very much a part of it. They’re a wonderful partner.”
The will is uniquely there, he said, but budgetary concerns need to be overcome. He said he was approached recently by a wheelchair-bound person who complained about the condition of sidewalks along Accabonac Road. “It was costing the man in wheelchair repairs. Mr. Hall’s response was to alert Scott King, East Hampton’s highway superintendent, with whom he said he had had a good working relationship.
Reached yesterday, Mr. King said he had worked with Mr. Hall recently when downtown Montauk got a new parking pattern. “He came down and suggested moving a handicapped parking spot closer to a curb cut.”
Mr. King said he had inspected the sidewalks at Accabonac Road and agreed that eight-foot-long cement sidewalk “panels” as well as curb cuts needed repair. “The big issue is we don’t have a budget line. Traditionally, in the past, we’ve had $100,000 for sidewalk repair. We haven’t had that in three years. The town has to be A.D.A.-compliant, so we’re doing what we can with money from other areas.”
Mr. King said he understood the town was in the midst of a budget crunch, but suggested that, “instead of having a capital line for repairing sidewalks, they should be a regular line item in my budget, so I don’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul.” The highway superintendent said a $1.3 million Highway Department budget surplus was used to fill budget shortfalls townwide, “not a good idea with our crumbling infrastructure.”