Picture this: It’s a gorgeous spring day. Little League is in full swing — quite literally. A resident with a physical disability drives to a local field to catch the last part of her child’s game. But when she arrives, she finds the accessible parking spaces have been taken up by an ice cream truck. Should she go home or park farther away and risk her physical health?
This is a situation that almost happened right here in Scarsdale, where an ice cream vendor actually refused to move from two accessible parking spaces during a 2021 Little League game at Crossway Field; however, it is not known whether any person with a disability was directly impacted.
“Abuse of handicap parking spaces” is one of the accessibility issues that Scarsdale’s Council of People with Disabilities (CPD) strives to bring awareness to, said Marian Green, the council’s chair.
According to Green, bystanders could have helped remedy this problem if parents had taken a more active approach to convince the offending driver to move.
“There are a lot of people in this town who don’t understand that those spaces are very necessary for people … they’re not just put there for their convenience,” said Green. She continued, “We can do better than that — all people can do better than that.”
Green, who has chaired the CPD for the past six years, described the council members’ mission as “Emissaries,” “Protectors,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy of Disabilities.”
Comprising eight members and guided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the council advises and assists the Scarsdale Board of Trustees with matters that concern residents with disabilities. This could include anything from ensuring that ADA compliance issues in public buildings and areas are respected and followed, to working with the Parks and Recreation Department to add more programming for children with special needs, among other things.
According to Green, once a building or an institution implements something to make life easier for people with disabilities, “it becomes the usual thing to do instead of the exceptional thing to do.”
One of the CPD’s most significant achievements was partnering with the Scarsdale Police Department to create an Emergency Response Form. The form, which took the CPD years to perfect and fit onto one page so it could be swiftly read in police cruisers, allows residents to self-report their disability and ensures that “no excessive response will occur” when first responders arrive at a person’s residence, said Green. For example, if police know they are entering a home in which an individual with autism spectrum disorder lives or someone with high anxiety, they will anticipate how to appropriately respond.
The CPD strongly encourages residents with special health conditions or issues to fill out the form, which can be accessed through the police department’s website (see link below). Those who cannot download the form are advised to call the Scarsdale Department of Public Safety at 914-722-1200 to set up a time to fill out the form in person or possibly even over the phone.
“This form is also a benefit for the police department because they want to keep their force safe as well,” said Green, giving an example of an elderly person with dementia who could become easily agitated and even aggressive if not approached the right way by first responders during an in-home emergency.
Scarsdale has various other services in place for those with disabilities in addition to the Emergency Response Form, such as the ParaTransit system, in-school special education services and sign language interpreters.
There are also numerous institutions, like the Scarsdale Public Library, that have long been champions of people with disabilities, said Green.
“They really know how to incorporate children, young people, and adults in meaningful programs,” said Green on behalf of the CPD, which has worked alongside the library in creating some of these programs.
A handful of new ADA-compliant elevators at the Scarsdale and Hartsdale train stations will be added to the area’s list of accessible devices and services in a few years.
According to MTA spokesperson Meredith Daniels, the construction contract includes one additional elevator at the Scarsdale location and two at the Hartsdale location.
“There was a hold on the project in April 2020 due to COVID,” Daniels wrote in an email to the Inquirer, adding that the construction contract is tentatively scheduled to be readvertised later this summer and awarded to a contractor by the end of this year. The work is anticipated to begin in the first quarter of 2022 and be completed before the first quarter of 2024.
However, according to Green and the CPD, simply having specific accommodations and devices in place, like elevators, is not enough in and of itself.
“What we want to do is make sure those elevators stay operating,” she explained. “A new elevator will do us no good if in a year and a half from now it doesn’t function, and no one comes to repair it … it’s following through to make sure that these different devices and accommodations remain intact.”
Green brought up the Hoyer lift at the Scarsdale Pool as another example.
“Several years ago, we had a Hoyer Lift installed at the pool,” said Green. “It's very useful for people who have physical disabilities; however, often, there isn't a staff member available to help someone use it.”
The Inquirer reached out to the Scarsdale Pool for comment and was assured that there is always a trained staff member on duty to assist someone with the Hoyer Lift. It is helpful and appreciated if the person interested in using the device can call in advance, but that is not required, said a representative at the pool.
To ensure that all ADA regulations are compliant in Scarsdale’s facilities, the CPD “might sit down with the new village manager and have a top to bottom ADA audit,” said Green. (Current Village Manager Steve Pappalardo will retire this month.) She also suggested Scarsdale’s public offices and local merchants could put more effort into hiring people with physical or other disabilities.
Some problems are not tangible, however.
Respect for those with disabilities and other special health conditions is an area of genuine concern for the CPD and something they feel is lacking among some Scarsdalians, said Green.
“There’s this idyllic vision we have of Scarsdale, and physically, when you look around, it is beautiful,” said Green, “but there are so many things here, attitudes and behavior, that spoil that image and don’t resemble the village in the park.”
It is no secret that ignorance often breeds intolerance, which is partly why the CPD is so focused on raising awareness around disabilities and many of the issues that affect people with those disabilities.
“Imperfectness is not a bad thing,” said Green. “People who are imperfect are as perfect as they will ever be, and that’s a good thing.”
To inquire about accessibility services in Scarsdale or bring forth a complaint or area of concern, email Green at email@example.com.
To fill out the Emergency Response Form, go to https://bit.ly/3hpKOuQ.