Historic Woodstock Struggles To Become Accessible To Disabled

07/21/12 8:35AM By Charlotte Albright
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VPR/Charlotte Albright
State representative Alison Clarkson wheels Louise Russell to the entrance of the Woodstock Inn as part of a project to rate accessibility of public buildings in the historic downtown.

Stroll through historic, tree-lined Woodstock, and you can't help being charmed by the nineteenth-century brick streetscape.

But what if you can't stroll? What if you are using a wheelchair? Or a guide dog?  That's tougher.

Last month, at the annual Digital Media Festival on the Woodstock green, a group of civic leaders previewed a new crowd-sourcing website for people with disabilities. AXSmap.com allows users with disabilities to rate the accessibility of public buildings, like hotels and restaurants.

Report card in hand, State Representative Alison Clarkson pushed Louise Russell, an accessibility advocate who uses a wheelchair, to the elegant Woodstock Inn.  But they couldn't get the wheelchair up the front steps. Where was the accessible entrance? 

"I really would like to know the reason that you think there's no signage that would indicate where I could go," Russell  told a staffer at the door."

The staffer directed Russell around the corner to a street-level entrance through the tavern.

Werner Graef, the inn's president and general manager, concedes it needs signs pointing to the accessible entrances. But he says the inn, which meets ADA requirements, cannot put a ramp out front because there is not enough distance to the driveway to make the slope safe. And he says other Woodstock business owners have even tougher problems to solve.

"Some of the building owners will probably say, wait a minute the cost benefit of this is just totally out of whack and we're not going to do it, so they may close the building and not have a commercial building and just let it sit there," Graef fears.

Graef  believes Woodstock's charm lies in some of the appealing architecture that now fails to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Representative Clarkson agrees, but she has formed a task force to search for ways to strike an affordable balance between historic preservation and accessibility for shoppers that, she notes, might open their wallets in stores, if they could more easily navigate them

"Lots of steps, narrow doorways, and we are working together to try and solve this problem," she says. "We are beginning with phase one surveying the businesses that are in those blocks and surveying the resources that are available to us."

And  there's already progress. Clarkson proudly points to  curb cuts in the sidewalk, and a fully accessible Library.

 "We get high marks for all our public buildings except the courthouse," she says. "And the courthouse is a challenge."

One short-term solution to that problem, she says, is to invite lawyers and their clients to meet in the Library as the town creates a more general long-term plan for accessibility.










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