Creating access to citizens is not optional, it’s a right

Posted Aug. 04, 2010, at 5:46 p.m.

As the executive director of Alpha One, Maine’s center for independent living, I have been following the recent discussions regarding the proposed investment in making the Brewer City Hall fully accessible in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. As a statewide nonprofit organization with an office in Bangor, we promote the full integration of people with a disability into the life of the community, and we monitor issues concerning access while providing assistance to communities, business and organizations that are working on access compliance with the ADA.

We commend the city of Brewer’s leadership in making the City Hall fully accessible to individuals with disabilities such as those who use a wheelchair. While I understand the budget constraints we all face, this is an issue that cannot be put off any longer. Creating access for citizens to vote, pay their taxes and access city services at their City Hall is not an optional activity — it is required by both federal and state laws. Access is a right.

When he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law on July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush spoke with great eloquence: “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

On July 26, 2010, Gov. John E. Baldacci marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act at an awards ceremony in Bangor. He said, “Maine is a stronger community because of the ADA and its impact in advancing inclusion of people with disabilities and improving opportunities for them and their families. The vital work of the ADA didn’t stop when it was signed into law; it needs to be constantly supported and advocated for by us all.”

While there may be a variety of avenues to resolve access — including moving the City Hall to a new location — it appears that the council has wisely chosen the least costly option that can be completed in a timely fashion in order to ensure full accessibility to city services for all Brewer taxpayers and residents. The Brewer council should be supported for this important decision.

Access is not an option — even in difficult budget times. It is the responsibility — legally and morally — to insure that all Brewer residents have full access to their municipal services, as well as the ability to participate in local government including their right to vote.

We appreciate the clear and strong statement made by Brewer leaders in expediting this project so work will get under way as soon as possible.

Dennis Fitzgibbons is the executive director of Alpha One.

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