BANGOR, Maine — The nation and the state of Maine have made great strides since the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law 20 years ago, but there still is much work to be done, the governor, legislators and advocates for the disabled said Monday at Husson University.
Rep. David Webster, D-Freeport, called the ADA, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, a form of “social justice.”
“The ADA created legal recourse for people with disabilities,” Webster told the 40 or so people who attended the event. “More importantly, it provided a moral compass for the nation. We needed a moral compass to create new understanding for what was right for people with disabilities.”
The purpose of the event, sponsored by the Maine ADA Coalition, was to bestow the first Denis Pratt ADA Awards. The coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations working together to create new opportunities for people with disabilities in Maine, was founded in 2009 under the leadership of Alpha One, a center for independ-ent living. Alpha One has offices in South Portland, Bangor and Presque Isle.
The award, given to organizations and individuals that have contributed substantially to the implementation of the law while championing and advocating for the disability community, was named to commemorate the life of Denis Pratt of Kennebunk, who died unexpectedly on July 7 at age 60. Pratt worked for Alpha One for 18 years, according to information provided at Monday’s ceremony. Nicknamed “Access Man,” he was an architect and access design specialist for Alpha One and advised organizations on how to meet ADA accessibility standards.
One of the recipients of the new award was the Bangor Police Department. It was honored in the public programs category for its cooperative efforts with members of the disabled community in Bangor to solve the problem of illegal parking in handicapped-designated spaces.
“They listened with a genuine desire to improve relations with the disability community, keeping ADA concerns a priority in the implementation of real solutions,” the coalition said of the Bangor police. “They hired a part-time parking enforcement officer, and implemented a system for trained volunteers to report parking vio-lators. The volunteers photograph violations and submit them, along with a formal report, to the department for review. Once received, the Bangor Police Department issues an education packet or a ticket to the violator.”
After the ceremony, Sgt. Paul Edwards, spokesman for the Bangor police, said the department was grateful to be recognized. He also said the program appeared to be the first of its kind in the nation and was being considered as a model for other cities.
Monday’s event was designed to be accessible to all, said Dennis Fitzgibbons, executive director of Alpha One. Sign Language interpreters and a court reporter whose transcript of the speakers’ words was converted into text projected onto a screen behind them were part of the program. The ceremony was held at the 1-year-old Gracie Theater, which was designed to be as accessible as possible, Julie Green, spokeswoman for Husson, has said.
Many of the issues related to disabilities that Gov. John Baldacci said the state is grappling with, such as website accessibility for the disabled, also are being looked at in Washington.
Kareem Dale, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and a special assistant to President Barack Obama on disability policy, told The Washington Post in an article published Monday that technology is the next challenge for the U.S. Department of Justice, which enforces the ADA.
“Every single person in our state is important,” Baldacci said at Monday’s awards ceremony. “We need everybody in Maine to have access so we are utilizing all their skills and talent to better the state, to better ourselves, to better our community.”
The Pratt awards were designed by Torren Gordon, 18, of Belfast. He created six unique awards, each of stained glass, according to Kippy Rudy, executive director of VSA arts of Maine. Gordon was one of more than 100 disabled Maine artists who submitted their work to the organization’s “A Matter of Perception” exhibit.
“When I heard about the awards, I thought his work would be more meaningful than a plaque,” Rudy said.
Other award recipients were: Husson College, for its accessible design of the Gracie Theater; Bowdoin College in Brunswick, for renovations to its oldest dormitories and other buildings; the Hilton Garden Inn in Lewiston, for its high level of service and commitment to accommodation; the staff of the Aroostook Centre Mall in Presque Isle for its support of making the employment site accessible; and Jan DaVinney, for her personal advocacy efforts for better access for deaf individuals.
A representative of the Aroostook Centre Mall was unable to attend, according to Fitzgibbons.