The Town of Amherst, a large suburb of Buffalo, started a Committee on Disabilities in 2008, after a resident attended frequent Board meetings to inquire about accessibility in the parks. Dan was not a disability advocate, by most definitions. He did not know much at all about the ADA, never heard of Independent Living Centers, and was not connected with many people in the disability community. He simply was facing an injustice that needed to be addressed. In 2004, Dan experienced a spinal cord injury from a workplace accident in Buffalo. He never had “disability matters” anywhere on his radar.
From his drive and desire, two Town Board members saw the need to not only have a committee on disabilities, but make it a law so it would never go away. I answered the ad in the local newspaper and became a member of the committee.
Dan and I have become close friends, and in one of our many gatherings, we discussed the total lack of awareness that exists in municipal governments. We’re not talking something missed here or there, we’re talking non-compliance and ignorance in every facet of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We also realized that nothing existed to educate municipalities and those invested in the disability community on proper response.
In 2009 Dan’s trust funded Town Hall Training (THT), a program designed to bring together disability advocates and municipal employees (with an emphasis on ADA coordinators) with the intent to educate them on what they need to know and WHY they need to know it.
There have now been 264 graduates of THT (many of them IL employees), a working relationship with NYS Association of Towns, NYS Association of Counties, and NYS Conference of Mayors, and recognition by many municipalities of what they lack. However, they have a desire to properly respond.
Niagara University, in conjunction with NYSILC, is making strides to imbed awareness throughout the state. For more information, contact Dave Whalen at 716-286-7255 or email@example.com to bring a THT to your region.