By Matthew Lorenz
Special to the Daily Planet
Berkeley’s Commission on Disability met Saturday at North Berkeley Senior Center to ask residents what type of improvements they would like for disabled access.
In particular, commissioners wanted to know if there a particular building, street corner or park in Berkeley that is inaccessible and if there are places a ramp could be erected or a curb cut.
But abysmal public turnout cut the meeting short. Commissioners are hoping that a meeting scheduled for mid-month will be better attended. Commissioner Karen Craig is also pushing for more public notice before the next meeting.
“We don’t know how many people would have shown up. I myself this week talked to some people who had no idea that this meeting was going on, and had other plans and therefore couldn’t come,” Craig said. “If you make the meeting an open forum, not only about the transition plan, [more people may come]. We need people’s input.”
The commissioners are writing the city’s Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plan, which seeks to remove barriers that prevent people with disabilities from full enjoyment of city programs. They are holding a pair of public hearings so the public can voice specific needs and general concerns relating to the plan.
But Saturday’s public hearing was cut short by commissioners when two residents complained that word of the hearing had not reached far enough.
Ray Dobard was the first to speak in the public comment period.
“Today is a public hearing and workshop concerning disability related discrimination barriers and to promote accessibility of the cities facilities, however, [I think] this alleged public hearing has not been sufficiently and adequately promoted,” Dobard said.
Dobard did, however, commend the underlying concerns that led to the hearing.
“It is an appropriate time to have this commission to ensure that [myself] and all other disabled persons’ viewpoints be heard and considered in a fair and impartial manner,” he said.
Jim Donelson heard about the meeting only by accident.
“I also agree with [Dobard’s comment about] lack of communication. I know there’s a whole lot of people who would like to be at this meeting, but I didn’t even know this commission existed until [yesterday],” he said. “Now I don’t know how to get the word out or what you all have been doing, but I would be more than happy to help you get the word out — that this commission does exist, that they have meetings and that people should and will come and participate in the meetings.”
Eric Dibner, the city disability services specialist who works with the commission, explained that the meeting was advertised through press releases, on the city’s website and through mailings.
Craig agreed with both Dobard and Donelson.
“Considering that I want to hear more from Jim [Donelson] and I want to hear more from the public, I feel that more advertising needs to be done — paid advertising and real outreach if we want to hear the public,” she said. “I’m embarrassed. We have already, as a commission, talked about this and listened to this. This was supposed to be for the public.”
Dibner indicated the kinds of things that meeting will help to decide, and which the public will hopefully contribute.
“The transition plan is the city’s obligation to describe where barriers in buildings will be removed,” Dibner said. “We need to hear from people who are facing barriers in their interactions with the city, so that we know what the important barriers are for the community.”
Commissioners adjourned the meeting two hours early. The second public hearing will take place on Wednesday, June 13 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
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