Norwood Works Toward Inclusivity For People With Disabilities
The Commission on Disability is in the final week of conducting an online survey to assess community needs.
NORWOOD, MA – Norwood’s Commission on Disability is making strides to improve all aspects of accessibility for the town by reinvigorating the commission, seeking new members, and putting out a community survey to better determine the needs of the disability community.
With one week left for people to respond to the survey, the commission took stock of the results at the halfway mark at its virtual meeting Thursday. The hope is to reach at least 250 residents.
Ifat Taraboulos from Zencity, a local government data analytics company, joined the conversation from Israel. Zencity has been working with the town for the past year and a half and assists about 350 local governments in collecting data.
“What we are striving to do is lower the barriers for resident participation in the decision-making process,” she said, “and help local governments use that data to make more evidenced-based decision-making.”
As of Thursday, 112 Norwood residents responded to the survey as well as 17 people from out of town. Sixty-two respondents took the time to answer at least one of two open-ended questions that asked about suggestions for improvement and personal examples.
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One-third of the respondents said they have personally experienced difficulties in at least one area, while 25 people noted that a family member had. Nineteen answered yes to both of those categories. While 46 did not experience difficulties in either circumstance, Taraboulos said it was notable that a third of them provided more detailed explanations in the open-ended question portion.
“It was very, very clear that these people answered thoughtfully and had a reason for doing so,” she said.
The survey currently does not have any respondents in the age group of 18 through 24, according to Taraboulos. More efforts will be made to reach out to younger residents through the schools, and the survey’s QR code will be placed on fliers. Member Sarah Quinn said the survey was distributed to SEPAC, the Special Education Parent Advisory Council.
The elder community was also a concern, as some members may need assistance in filling the survey out. Volunteers at the senior center have been assisting people there.
Assistant General Manager Michael Rosen noted that copies are being distributed at the library, the recreation center, Town Hall, and the senior center as well as two Norwood Housing Authority locations. He said it was appropriate to “take a temperature check” to see how the response is at these locations.
Taraboulos stressed that the feedback matters and will be used by the town to make concrete improvements. Some previous suggestions were for lifts for the swimming pools to accommodate people who use wheelchairs, adaptive playground equipment, and improved services for those with visual and hearing challenges.
Rosen said that an accessible park was proposed for Norwood Memorial Airport. The Commission on Disability wrote a letter of support. However, the Community Preservation Commission did not approve it for this round of funding because several applications were for funding for parks, including the proposed Bernie Cooper Memorial Park at the Saint Streets lot.
Commission Chair Laura Duran is a licensed clinical social worker who became involved with the commission last year after seeing a post about it on Facebook.
“General Manager Tony Mazzucco had put out a post that they were looking to re-create the commission, which had been abandoned a number of years ago,” she explained. “I think it shows a lot of initiative on his part. His ask was really from the wide lens look at disability, particularly neurodiversity.”
She decided to join the commission because her background in working with people with disabilities allowed her to contribute her expertise. As she thought about what services and opportunities the disability community in Norwood may need, the idea for the survey surfaced.
“I think Norwood is amazing in its town services,” said the three-year Norwood resident, noting the strength of the Recreation Department. “It’s just a really great community. But I am sure there are places where we can do better.”
The survey will provide direction for town policy over the next couple of years.
While the previous commission focused on structural accessibility, the current body seeks to take a broader approach to accessibility issues by considering visual and hearing impairments, autism spectrum disorders and neurodiversity.
While virtual meetings have allowed people to join from their homes and increase participation, Duran pointed out that there is no ASL interpretation.
“We’re trying to think of all those different ways where life can be made more accessible,” she said. “We want to make sure that everyone has access.”
One of the things the commission has done is to hold a meeting with Recreation Department Director Travis Farley, who spoke about the current meetings on making the town pools more accessible and making lifts available.
Educating people about the various challenges faced by people with disabilities and encouraging an attitude shift are important goals, Duran added.
“There are a lot of well-meaning people,” she said. “But they simply don’t understand what some of the real barriers are.
“One of the reasons the survey is so important is because I think we are going to hear is that it’s not just structural,” Duran continued. “It’s how we present our events, what people’s attitudes are, and how accommodating places are going to be.”
Once the survey results come in, there can be a few goals formulated to be included in the planning for the next fiscal year.
Duran said she decided to pursue this field because her brother was injured in a car accident when he was 19.
“I thought that this was a field where there was a need for more smart people who are advocates, who are going to be forceful in their pursuit of justice and equality” she said. She received her master’s degree from Boston College and has been employed for 14 years at Networks Supported Living Services in Canton, most recently as its program director.
Duran noted that many people without lived experience don’t realize that you need to have “several hours of leeway” if you are going to take the Ride, the paratransit service provided by the MBTA. The Ride came under fire in a recent WCVB-TV report for providing late trips or missing them entirely.
“I see a lot of my clients opting out of life because it’s just too hard,” she said. “I’m hoping to make a difference in Norwood in this small way to help more people opt in.”
Zoom has been a godsend for many people with disabilities to improve access to meetings and social activities, which may be a bright spot in the pandemic.
“I just hope we don’t forget the lessons we’ve learned,” Duran said.
Another key commission member is Michelle Sweeney, the director of physical therapy at the Pappas Rehabilitation Hospital for Children in Canton, one of four hospitals in the state that fall under the state’s Bureau of Public Health. She has worked there for 25 years.
“The commission was really active in the 80s and 90s, but then it kind of died out after more buildings became accessible,” Sweeney said. “Tony Mazzucco was a big proponent of restarting this commission.
“It’s not just about mobility limitations,” she added. “It’s about supporting people with all types of disabilities and providing them with access.”
Sweeney said her perspective is “coming from both worlds” as both a service provider and as the mother of a son on the autism spectrum.
“For me, it’s personal,” she said. “Events need to be more inclusive for people with visual impairments, hearing issues and people who are autistic.”
Sweeney hopes the survey will raise people’s awareness and uncover areas for improvement.
“Our goal is to have a working group where we can focus our efforts,” she said, noting that transportation, access to public events, and recreational activities will be important areas of focus.
The one thing Sweeney currently laments is that the commission has no members with disabilities. She hopes the survey and the momentum behind it will encourage people to join.