Members of the Forest Park Disabilities Advisory Committee have been pushing village officials for years to pay closer attention to the needs of disabled residents, and at a Jan. 3 meeting, they were happy to get a commitment from the village to do just that.
Village Administrator Mike Sturino and Commissioner Patrick Doolin agreed that a thorough review of the village’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act is needed, and vowed to hire a consultant to guide that process. A job description still needs to be drafted, but based on the discussion between committee members and village officials, that person will likely be charged with evaluating municipal entryways, crosswalks, local ordinances and a host of other items.
“There’s not a single municipality in the United States that’s 100 percent compliant,” Sturino said following the committee meeting. “It’s a process more than anything.”
Committee member Anne Gunter said her organization has tried to help prioritize the most pressing issues, realizing that not everything can be done at once. As of late the advisory group has focused on ensuring the village’s emergency plans accommodate disabled residents in the event of a natural disaster. The committee is also pushing for better services at public meetings, such as sign language and brail.
Gunter, who is wheelchair bound, said stricter enforcement within the business community is important too.
“A lot of the stores are inaccessible, on Madison Street in particular,” Gunter said.
A $25,000 line item was included in the fiscal year budget for the village to conduct an ADA compliance check. Sturino said it’s reasonable to expect that someone could be identified for the job by the end of the month. He asked Gunter and fellow committee members Larry Biondi, Sam Knight and Patricia Martin to provide any contacts they might have within the disabled community.
“It’s something absolutely that’s being looked at,” Sturino said. “But I have not found the right person or entity to do that yet.”
Sturino credited the group for “rightfully interjecting” its concerns into the $10 million VIP street improvement plan. The issues raised by the disabilities committee have resulted in safer streets and alleyways, Sturino said.
“I’d like to pat ourselves on the back and say we’re doing a good job, but there’s always room for improvement,” Sturino said.
The cost of retrofitting municipal properties and updating its codes for greater ADA compliance will not be known until the review is complete. That study is expected to lay out timelines for completing certain projects as well as possible costs.
To what extent village commissioners agree with the recommendations may also influence the process, Doolin said, because the municipal budget is recreated each year. Hiring someone to start this process, though, is an important first step, Doolin said.
“We’ve been talking about this for two years now,” Doolin said. “Everything comes down to money.”