Is Winchester Accessible?
by Joyce Westner
July 23, 2023. From curb cuts to accessible parking spaces to “Light It Up Blue” for autistic awareness, Winchester accommodates many types of disabilities but Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator Mike Towne is hoping to provide more assistive technologies for residents.
ADA in Winchester is three people, according to Towne—Disability Access Commission Chair Lisa Matrundola, Special Projects Manager Margaret White of the Engineering Department, and himself. Towne is also the towns’ Human Resources Director, and his involvement with disability access is a relatively minor part of his job.
Tops of his list is to get funding to update signage inside the Town Hall for visually impaired and hard of hearing visitors, and he’s looking into what other languages the signs should include. He’s hoping to get digital interactive touch signs—“the lower level is a real labyrinth,” he says. Visitors could use a braille keyboard and get information about getting to the town clerk’s office, for instance. “Or they could search to get a copy of a birth certificate,” he adds.
Towne urges residents to call his office if they see any accessibility problems. “We’ve gotten some calls about handicap parking,” he says. He coordinates that issue with White and also with the Department of Public Works. “It’s always a question of what’s the balance,” he says.
Resident Marianne DiBlasi is a strong proponent of accessibility, and as a person with a physical disability, she finds the limited number of accessible parking spaces a problem. She laments the loss of the space in front of the former LaPatisserie on Church Street, which disappeared when the intersection with Waterfield Rd. was reconstructed. And Laraway Rd. spaces are also gone during the train bridge repair project. As an “independent wheelchair user,” parking in an accessible parking spot near the town center and pushing her wheelchair up the hill to Church St. is a difficult and long trip, which limits her ability to patronize businesses in that part of town. “Almost accessible is not accessible,” says DiBlasi, editor of Disability Issuesnewsletter http://disabilityvisibility.com/resources/disability-issues/.
The good news for wheelchair users is accessibility at Shannon Beach on the Upper Mystic Lake. According to a press release from Gov. Maura Healey’s office, the beach and bathhouse facilities: “The beach is now universally accessible, with accessible paths from parking to the beach and the adjacent shoreline picnic grove. Beach wheelchairs are also available at Shannon Beach.”