Much accomplished since ADA enacted, still work to be done
WESTPORT, Mass. (AP) — In the 11 years since the accident that placed John Pelletier in a wheelchair, this country has come a long way to accommodating those with difficulty getting around, he said.
“In those years, there has been a dramatic increase in access to restaurants and public facilities,” Pelletier said. “I ski, I handcycle, I play tennis. None of that was available 25 years ago.”
But one trip was enough to put that progress into perspective, Pelletier said.
“My daughter lives in London,” he said. “We’ve been to visit a couple of times.
“They are so much more advanced than we are in terms of (the Americans with Disabilities Act). All the buses and cabs are wheelchair accessible. The sidewalks have good curb cuts. All the restaurants are accessible.
“It is amazing what they have done. Their handicapped accessibility is ahead of us by 10 years.”
Pelletier, a former attorney, is an advocate for the handicapped and a member of the Westport Commission on Disabilities.
A lot of what he knows, he said, he learned from Elaine Ostroff, the chair of the Westport commission and a national leader on ADA compliance, Pelletier said. Ostroff was present when President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA bill into law 25 years ago.
Ostroff, he said, led the charge to get roll-down mats to allow wheelchairs to access the beach by the Knubble.
“She is a leader, nationally, and an inspiration,” Pelletier said. “We’ve been lucky to have her here.”
And he has been lucky to have her as a teacher, Pelletier added. It helped him make sense of what he was seeing when he got to England, he said.
“I was amazed at how well we could get around,” Pelletier said. “There was a real commitment to accessibility over there.
“The thing that drives me crazy, especially in Fall River, are all the restaurants and pubs I can’t get into. With the older restaurants, if they have three or four steps at the entrance, I can’t get in.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that Sagres reopened. That is one place I can get in.”
There is still a lot of room for improvement, Pelletier said. None of the buses to Foxwoods that operate in this area are handicapped-accessible.
“I saw in The Herald News that there are libraries in Massachusetts that are not wheelchair-accessible. Really, how can that be? We still have a long way to go.”
On a Monday afternoon, he went to the tennis courts behind the Westport Middle School. He assembled his sports chair and went out onto the courts, racket in hand. He practiced with the instructors: Jim Buck of Mansfield, who played on his feet, Dick Lane of Hudson, N.H., who played from a wheelchair.
Pelletier hit a volley, spun backward in his chair quickly enough to be ready for the return shot Buck hit his way. After practice, Pelletier would play against several other wheelchair athletes. They were pulling in, assembling their chairs, getting ready to play.
Tennis is not all the world offers, he added.
He can go to the beach to swim in the ocean, Pelletier said. He skis in Maine and hunts in Massachusetts. He can go back to the YMCA in Fall River, now handicapped-accessible.
“People are getting used to seeing people in wheelchairs playing sports and driving cars,” he said. “So we are making some progress.”
Information from: The (Fall River, Mass.) Herald News, http://www.heraldnews.com