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Advocates: Accessibility commission may be valuable resource

The visually-impaired, deaf, and those with mobility issues may benefit from a proposed accessibility advisory commission being eyed by officials at City Hall.

“The city needs to evaluate accessibility of its facilities, services and programs,” said Councilman Jon Mackey, who spearheaded the drive to get it to a vote before the rest of council at its most recent meeting.

“It’s something I wanted to do and have been talking about for a while,” he said. “It is another iteration of council as it seeks to move in a positive direction.”

He said the commission would ideally consist of five voting members from a cross-section of the disabled community. Three would be appointed after interviews by council and two by the mayor, Mackey said.

The remainder on the commission might consist of the city engineer, city community development, or another member of the council, he said.

Mackey said he reached out to a similar organization in Philadelphia, who will be expected to speak before council at its remote meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Invitations of interest in forming the commission and being on it have been extended agencies and non-profits that serve the disabled community. They include places such as Hope Enterprises, North Central Sight Services and the Center for Independent Living.

Much as the city’s Brandon Park or recreation commissions, the commission would discuss issues related to accessibility and then make recommendations for the council and administration, Mackey said.

“The disability community needs to be on the accessibility advisory commission,” said Misty Dion, executive director of the Center for Independent Living Roads to Freedom, 23 E. Third St.

In a statement, Dion discouraged having any “paid professionals” who do not experience Williamsport’s inaccessibility on a commission.

A cross-section of disabled individuals or their advocates could work best, according to Brian Patchett, CEO of North Central Sight Services.

A college student when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, Patchett recently told council’s public works committee the commission might draw from varied experiences of the disabled and become a valuable resource for such projects as building and street design, and existing updates to accessibility, Patchett said.

“It’s just the start,” Mackey said, hopeful for a positive vote by the rest of council.

“If the council approves it, we need to start to reach out to disabled city residents and or parents and advocates for them who might consider being on it,” he said.

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