Westborough Town Meeting to consider establishing Disability Commission

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Photo by/Dakota Antelman
An outdoor classroom sits outside Westborough High School. Conversations about a new push to form a disability commission in town briefly referenced accessibility efforts taken in setting up such spaces.

By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer

WESTBOROUGH – Town Meeting will be asked on Saturday, May 15 whether it wants to establish a seven-member commission to advise officials about relevant compliance laws as well as design policy, services and facilities to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

During the April 13 Westborough Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Fred Lonardo, who is the town’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator, spoke about his past experiences providing similar technical assistance to the town of Lexington.

ADA Coordinator details proposal

According to state law, the commission members must include people with disabilities, an elected or appointed official of the town and an immediate family member of a person with a disability.

Lonardo said that, like Lexington, a Westborough commission might also have a landscape architect or someone who works with people with disabilities as representation.

He noted that many people think of disabilities solely as wheelchair-users when in reality, a multitude of challenges exist, such as visual and hearing loss.

Lonardo noted that when setting up a municipal meeting room, for example, accommodations for people with hearing impairments may be incorporated.

He gave other anecdotes from his previous role on the types of situations that may arise. 

Lonardo recalled working with the town clerk on choosing voting machines that are accessible for visually and hearing-impaired individuals. He helped the school department to set up an accessible outdoor classroom.

Businesses, public agencies and other community organizations are other areas where the commission, in conjunction with the coordinator, provides guidance, recommendations and technical assistance.

Lonardo pointed out that the commission would work with a business seeking a variance through the Architectural Access Board on identifying issues.

Selectmen weigh in on Disability Commission

Establishing a Disability Commission “sounds like an intelligent decision to make,” said Selectman Sean Keogh.

Although Selectmen were not required to take a vote, Keogh added his support. “It makes a lot of sense if we’re focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said. “This [commission] would go a long way answering questions that come about because of those issues.”

Selectman Ian Johnson said that, as a member of the Municipal Building Committee, he’d seen questions and ADA concerns raised.

“I can see the role it will play to help Fred out as well,” Johnson said. “It’s definitely a worthwhile route to take.”

Town Manager Kristi Williams noted that, within the last two years, Westborough has completed its own ADA self-assessment, designated Lonardo in his current role and created policies.

“This is really good timing,” she said.