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Commission plans survey to help those with disabilities

abass@northstarreporter.com

The Commission on Disabilities wants to determine whether North Attleborough is providing adequate services.

To determine the quality of services North Attleborough offers to those with physical or mental disabilities, the commission wants to conduct a survey to identify the number of individuals in the town who have one or more disabilities. The survey will also ask respondents for feedback on the types of services offered by the town, including transportation, building accessibility and school paraprofessionals.

“We are currently in the beginning stages of conducting a town-wide survey to get a better understanding of the population of the town as it relates to residents with disabilities, including physical, behavioral, cognitive, sensory, and more regardless of age,” Chairman Paul Keenan said. “It is something we have been discussing for the last year or so, but now, after our last meeting, we are moving full steam ahead.”

He went on to say that this survey will help to assess whether changes are needed to currently available services and if more funding is required in the Fiscal Year 2025 budget.

Keenan went on to say that the format of the survey has not yet been decided.

“We will likely have a couple of formats, including online and paper,” he said. “We expect to make that decision soon at one of our upcoming meetings.”

Departments provide feedback

During a June 1 meeting, the commission met with representatives of town departments who provided an overview of the services they offer. A majority said their buildings complied with the American with Disabilities Act by being located on the ground floor with ramps and elevators installed for improved accessibility.

A recurring theme among those, however, who spoke was the lack of transportation for those with mobility issues.

Joan Badger, the town’s Human Services Coordinator, said the Health Department needed an ambulance to help transport those with disabilities to hospitals in case of an emergency.

“There are wonderful transportation companies out there,” she said. “I’ve gone all the way up making phone calls to the federal level to try to get a person to receive medical care.”

In her testimony, Animal Control Officer Felicia Camara told the commission how her office has been trying to find an approach to help children on the Autism spectrum overcome their fears of animals.

Animal Control periodically holds volunteer days when students from North Attleborough schools meet the animals and assist in their care.  According to Camara, some children have difficulties understanding rules.

“If they are doing something that they are not supposed to do like touch another animal or be cruel to another person, we ask them to stop, go over the rules, but they get angry because they are of the mindset that they can do this,” she said. “Unfortunately, due to the safety of other people, themselves, and the animals, I usually ask them to leave.”

As a mother of a child on the spectrum, Camara said she understands the difficulties of explaining rules to the children.

Throughout the meeting, members of the commission discussed ideas to better improve the experiences of those with disabilities.

One suggestion by a commission member was a special nighttime volunteer event for the children and their parents. Camara seemed open to the idea.

Another suggestion was to bring in books written in Braille  from the Perkins School for the Blind at the Richards Memorial Library, which received positive feedback from members of the audience.

According to Keenan, these suggestions will be part of the survey and taken into consideration when reviewing the results.

Those with disabilities say more must be done

Jen Cole, a North Attleborough native, is diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, Autism, and childhood Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and said she was interested in the idea of a survey.

Cole said as a child, she did not receive emotional support to talk about her disability. She said that kind of support is needed in communities and would have improved her school life.

“Teachers let kids constantly make fun of me. I had trouble making friends. My anxiety was always so high,” Cole said. “It was a constant fear of being teased if I went home sick or missed any school. It caused me to fall behind occasionally even though I was ‘gifted’.”

Town Councillor Kathleen Prescott also said the town must do more to accommodate those with disabilities, specifically those with Autism and ADHD.

As a mother of three children with ADHD and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Prescott said it was difficult for people to understand why her children have certain behaviors during specific situations–such as when they are over-stimulated

“There aren’t a lot of programs that are accommodating to kids who need quiet space or less commotion,” Prescott said. “We were kicked out of the zoo summer camp last year because parents complained. We’re trying to figure out how they can participate this year but don’t want to set them up for failure.”

Prescott described these disabilities as “invisible” and said there was a failure on the part of the town to not put a greater emphasis on them. She said the commission would need to call for a massive amount of spending to create a strategy to help children in school with disabilities.

“I think the town leaders have the best intentions,” she said. “I just think there is so much nuance and additional cost that it gets overlooked.”

A majority of residents said a way to help those with physical disabilities is to fix the sidewalk.

Jeannine Haines and her husband are both handicapped after surgery and walking has become difficult for each of them. She said she was worried that she could injure herself on the sidewalks because of the cracks and unevenness in the pavement.

“We used to walk everywhere in town,” Haines said. “Now because of age and physical limitations, we are uncomfortable walking on the sidewalks in and around the center.”

Another suggestion by resident Kathy Bartucca was to have more handicap parking spaces.

“My mom passed three years ago now, but was confined to a wheelchair for 14 years,” Bartucca said. “I had asked about handicapped parking spaces up town once, but didn’t get a reply other than there’s one by the library. “

Keenan said the response from those with disabilities is what the committee is looking for in the survey. He said that he and his colleagues want to help the community and the first step they need to do is listen.

“It’s good to know what residents in the town need, and this is the first step,” Keenan said. “We need to listen.”

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