By Lisa Loomis
Members of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce are being asked to respond to a survey about accessibility which is part of the chamber’s accessMRV initiative, designed to make The Valley more hospitable to people with disabilities.
“This will help us have an understanding, a baseline, of where we’re at in terms of accessibility,” explained chamber executive director Eric Friedman. That baseline, he said, will inform several aspects of the accessMRV initiative.
An important part of the initiative, he said, is educating business owners about how small steps they can take to improve their facilities can make a big difference in how welcoming The Valley is to people of all abilities. Additionally, the chamber is working on a program that will provide microgrants to local businesses to help defray the costs of business owners making improvements to their properties.
“This survey will also help us be able to provide accurate information when we are asked about accessibility at local restaurants, for example,” Friedman said.
“It’s not about trying to bring about any type of enforcement. We want to foster an ethos of doing the best we can for people of all abilities because it’s the right thing to do,” he added.
“It’s also good business, in addition to doing the right thing for our community. If we do this well, it opens up a huge opportunity for us to really stand out. The fact that Vermont Adaptive has just opened a multi-million-dollar facility at Mount Ellen and the fact that the High Fives are doing the work they are doing here is significant,” he said.
THE KEY THING
“We’re aware of the fact that there’s a lot of misinformation about businesses that are exempt in terms of ADA compliance and there’s a lack of understanding about what triggers coming into full compliance. I think that’s a big part of it. It’s not a matter of being myopic about everyone must be fully compliant. We understand why some businesses can’t be fully compliant, but that’s no reason why we shouldn’t do our best. That’s the key thing,” he continued.
The initiative was announced at the chamber’s annual meeting late this summer and Friedman has put together a steering committee to bring it to fruition. Fayston resident Nancy Phillips is a member of the steering committee and an advocate for better accessibility after she garnered first-hand experience when temporarily disabled due to orthopedic surgery.
While temporarily disabled, Phillips took the time to understand what businesses do and don’t to do. Business owners taking steps like creating an accessible parking spot or a ramp for the front door are not automatically required to bring their entire building into compliance, she explained.
EASILY ACHIEVABLE IMPROVEMENTS
Phillips provided information from an ADA guide for small businesses that spells out that readily achievable compliance measures need to be taken, such as removal of architectural barriers that can easily be removed without much difficulty or expense. Those barriers might be an assessible route to the front door from a parking lot, a small ramp to make front doors accessible, an alternative route into a building that can be made accessible. Other readily achievable measures could include installing grab bars in bathrooms, whether or not the bathroom itself is accessible.
Small businesses with limited parking (four or fewer spaces) must have one accessible parking space that has an access aisle allowing someone using a wheelchair or other mobility device to get in and out of a car or van.
The steering committee has created a mission statement for accessMRV which reads:
“To create an environment where all visitors and residents can enjoy everything the Mad River Valley has to offer, regardless of their abilities. Our efforts are all encompassing: aiming to improve physical accessibility, communication, resources, and overall awareness of accessibility needs. We strive to create a seamless experience for individuals with diverse abilities and to foster a community-wide ethos of encouraging accessibility.”
The survey can be found here: https://us2.list-manage.com/survey?u=19b313da41528306e79a479d6&id=d45a05f36e&attribution=false&e=41e3d831f2