By Ken BorsukPublished 6:43 pm EDT, Friday, July 27, 2018
GREENWICH — In marking the 28th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Greenwich found the perfect spot to hold a celebration and show off the improvements and advancements that have made a difference in residents’ lives.
The Friday ceremony was held in Byram Park at the new municipal pool, which is fully ADA compliant, making it much easier for seniors, young kids and the disabled to get in the water through its zero-depth entry accessibility.
“The Americans With Disabilities Act changed everything for people with disabilities,” said Alan Gunzburg, who is legally blind and hearing impaired. “Many people with disabilities were out of sight, out of mind before the act. And with the act, accommodation became a basic issue of civil rights. It’s been a life-changer.”
In Greenwich, accessible public transportation, curb cuts to allow pedestrians to cross streets with ease, ATM machines with braille, fire alarms that can be seen and heard and greater acceptance of service dogs have become common over the years.
“These are just a few things we see that came out of the ADA. In the business world, I have heard the term ‘the curb cut effect,’ where you make a change for a small part of a population and it has a benefit for everybody,” Gunzburg told the crowd, which gathered a day after the anniversary of the law. “Curb cuts are used by kids with bicycles and grownups who can’t pick their feet up high enough and people with strollers and someone pulling a cart with groceries. It’s been a game-changer and has made a lot of difference and made things easier and more available for people.”
Gunzburg, who is co-chair of the first selectman’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities in Greenwich and a member of the town’s Board of Human Services, thanked the town for “being at the forefront” of improving lives through accessibility.
Melissa Thomas, a town resident, spoke at the event about her chronic mental illness, which she called an “invisible disability.”
“My disability is with me every day,” said Thomas, who works for Pathways, a Greenwich nonprofit that offers adults with severe mental illness both housing and total wrap-around comprehensive support.
“I’ve had major depression and other issues my entire life,” she said. “One of my earliest memories is wishing I was dead. It didn’t get better as I got older. I was not just some moody teenager or a lost young adult trying to find my way. I was and still am mentally ill. My brain physically does not work properly and lacks very important chemicals.”
Thomas said her disability always affects her, but no one can tell by looking at her as she goes to yoga class or walks her dogs. She said others residents have always seen her — she went to local schools and graduated from Greenwich High School — but they don’t see her disability.
That’s why it is so important for people to know, Thomas said.
“I am you disabled neighbor, the one whose limits are not easy to see,” she said. “The one who maybe the curb cuts aren’t apparent for at first. But I still need them. My disability is persistent, and I may need special accommodations to seem normal, so please don’t think less of me on days I don’t seem normal.
“Resist the urge to think in pejoratives and blanket statements. I am fighting battles you can’t see. Everyone is fighting battles that no one else can see,” Thomas told the crowd. “Being disabled limits me but does not define me. Being disabled does not take away my humanity. I am a person first.”
Commissioner of Human Services Alan Barry told the crowd that residents should contact him if a problem comes up with accessibility in town. His department investigates and handles complaints to make sure Greenwich remains an inclusive community.
“The ADA expanded opportunities for Americans with disabilities by reducing barriers, changing perceptions and increasing full participation in community life,” First Selectman Peter Tesei said. “However, the full promise of the ADA will only be reached if we remain committed to continue our efforts to fully implement the ADA.”
Other town and state officials in attendance at Friday’s ceremony included town Director of Parks and Recreation Joseph Siciliano, Commissioner of Public Works Amy Siebert, Selectman John Toner, state Sen. L. Scott Frantz and state Reps. Livvy Floren, Michael Bocchino and Fred Camillo, along with several members of the Greenwich Police Department.