Commission Works to Make Bedford a Welcoming, Safe, Accessible, Inclusive Town for Disabled

Submitted by the Town of Bedford’s Disability Commission

Bedford’s Disability Commission was created at the 2019 Annual Town Meeting, and we are currently taking the steps to formally establish Bedford’s DC.  Of the 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth, 44 of them have established Disability Commissions with the Massachusetts Office on Disability.

The commission in Bedford currently has six members: Sarah Blackman, Gyasi Burks-Abbott, Dan Crews, Amy Kelly, Ann Guay, and Howard Sumner.

Disability awareness is an important part of establishing inclusion and justice for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in 1990 and reauthorized in 2008, directs municipalities to establish Disability Commissions (DCs) for the purpose of raising awareness to local leaders. 

The mission is to ensure Bedford is a welcoming, safe, accessible, and inclusive town for all people with disabilities. The Bedford Disability Commission will “advise and assist our Town Manager to help remedy structural and communication barriers, implement education programs, and promote equity in employment and public services provided by our town.”

The commission includes people who are blind/have low vision, autistic, [and] use wheelchairs for different reasons, and “we have a parent member who has an adult son with autism and an intellectual disability. We hope to expand our membership to include people with other disabilities, including hearing impairment/deafness.”       

In 2020, Bedford received a federal grant funded by the ADA to conduct a Self-Evaluation and Transition Plan (SETP). An outside consultant conducted a comprehensive assessment to determine if the Town of Bedford:

  • Has accessible town buildings, schools, and other facilities
  • Has an ADA Coordinator employed by the town
  • Provides information in alternative formats to improve inclusivity for town meetings
  • Has a coordinated approach to receive and respond to questions and complaints

In response to the SETP, Disability Commission Chair and Town Manager Matt Hanson and Select Board liaison Emily Mitchell led the commission in a collaborative goal-making process evaluating priorities across several categories. The commission’s top funding priorities were identified as:

  1. Accessible Basics: seating at events, meetings, and across facilities; seating at 

playgrounds, accessible picnic tables at the schools and Kids Club; and accessible restrooms in buildings and portable restrooms on sports fields

  1. Staffing: hire an ADA Coordinator, establish our DC with the MA Office on Disability 
  2. Accessible/Automatic Doors & Entries (Ramps/ Railings)
  3. Traffic Signals/Crossings

The Disability Commission is “thrilled” that Stephanie Oliver, Bedford’s new Human Resources Director, will serve as the town’s ADA Coordinator. 

In the following year, the Bedford Disability Commission will conduct education and outreach aimed to establish and strengthen relationships with other town government departments and committees, assist the Taxation Committee with its initiative to provide tax relief to low-income town citizens with disabilities, and continue improving inclusivity for engaging in voter participation, including at Annual Town Meeting. 

People can learn more about the Bedford Disability Commission and access the complete SETP and the Finding/Recommendations Report at https://www.bedfordma.gov/735/Disability-Commission.

To contact the Bedford Disability Commission, email [email protected] or phone the Town Manager’s Office at 781-275-1111. 

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