A July 27 meeting of the Forest Park Disability Advisory Committee led to considerable progress on several issues of concern for the committee and members of the Progress Center for Independent Living.

The meeting was attended by Commissioner Patrick Doolin, marking a rare appearance from an elected official at one of the committee’s monthly meetings. Tim Toerber, an advocate for the disabled who works with the Progress Center, called it “the best advisory committee meeting in a long time.”

The most pressing issue on the agenda was the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) sidewalk replacement project that has rendered sidewalks on and around the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Desplaines Avenue unusable since early July.

Toerber and others complained that the torn-up sidewalks presented a hazard to the blind and the disabled. Toerber took several pictures of the area, some of which showed pedestrians being forced to walk in the street.

Committee members called for increased visibility of the affected area so that those traveling in wheelchairs or motorized scooters would be able to turn around in time. “The condition over there is deplorable; it’s embarrassing,” said Doolin after the meeting. Though IDOT projects are largely out the hands of local government, a follow-up meeting on Aug. 1 gave committee members and officials including Doolin, Village Administrator Michael Sturino, two representatives from the village’s engineering firm (Christopher Burke Engineering), and Bob Kutak, the village’s director of streets and public field engineer, a chance to work toward rectifying the problem.

Toerber said that progress was already apparent the day of the meeting, as new signs indicating the closed sidewalks were already put up.

“Our engineer is going to come up with some modified drawings to address their concerns and run those by IDOT to see if it’s something that they would be willing to modify,” said Doolin.

He said that the current project might require some compromise since it is already underway, but that the committee would be given a voice during the planning stages of future projects, including the upcoming Village Improvement Plan (VIP).

Also discussed at the Wednesday meeting was the lack of a comprehensive village plan for accommodation of the disabled, which is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

According to Progress Center Advocacy Coordinator Larry Biondi, the plan must include participation by every village department, and must be overseen by someone with expertise in urban planning and disability issues.

The plan must list the physical barriers in public facilities that limit accessibility to individuals with disabilities, describe the methods that will be used to remove these barriers, and specify a schedule, according to guidelines set forth in the act.

Biondi said that many suburbs have hired paid interns from local graduate schools to design and implement their ADA plans.

“If this plan is, in fact, necessary and required, of course we ought to have it,” said Doolin. He said that he had asked Sturino to look into the matter.

Finally, the committee voiced their objection to enclosed outdoor seating arrangements at Madison Street restaurants Caffe de Luca and Francesca’s Fiore, which Toerber said did not allow sufficient room for wheelchairs and motorized scooters to get by.

He said that Caffe de Luca left only 31 inches of space between its outdoor seating and a lamp on the sidewalk, while Fiore left 36 inches between the plants that extend past its gates and the sidewalk.

Toerber said he discussed the issue with representatives from the village’s Code Enforcement Department following the meeting.