PEACE DALE Coinciding with the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and as part of a state agency’s effort to hear the issues affecting disabled Rhode Islanders and their families, the Peace Dale Public Library will play host to a forum in that mission on Tuesday, July 23. Organized by the Rhode Island Governor’s Commission on Disabilities (GCD), the “public forums to identify the concerns of people with disabilities and their families” invite all to speak on the subject and will provide additional accommodations for the disabled, including transportation and improved hearing devices. Representatives of various state and non-profit agencies will be on hand at the meeting to hear comments.  

Our mission is to ensure that all people with disabilities are afforded the opportunity to exercise all the rights and responsibilities afforded to citizens of this state, and part of meeting that mission is ensuring that our community has a chance to let us know about any barriers that are preventing them from exercising those rights and responsibilities,” said Alyssa Gleason, GCD senior planning and program development specialist. 

While going by many names since its state inception in 1956, the commission has always existed in the mission of improving the lives of the disabled. In 2001, GCD began implementing a week-long series of forums across the state to be attended by both the public and community and state agencies, providing these organizations and policy-makers an opportunity to hear the issues of Rhode Island’s disabled and handicapped population first hand. Since, GCD has carried out the forum program annually during the summertime to coincide with the passage of the ADA, signed into law on July 26, 1990. Entities that have worked with the commission in the past have included state departments, non-profit organizations and local chapters of national advocacy groups. Examples include the Rhode Island Department of Health, the Rhode Island Office of Rehabilitation Services, the Rhode Island Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Rhode Island Disability Law Center, the Rhode Island Parent Information Network, local chapters of the National Federation of the Blind and MS Society and, finally, local organizations such as Perspectives Corporation, AccessPoint RI and Opportunities Unlimited. 

 According to GCD, past forums and public participation have led to a number of strides in improving the quality of life for the disabled in the state. 

“One of the most common questions I am asked about the forums is whether or not the testimony provided actually has an impact on services in the state, and the answer is yes,” said Gleeson. “While we have a list of some of the outcomes from past forums available on our website (www.gcd.ri.gov), one of the most recent programs that has come out of the forums is our Livable Homes Modification Grant program, which helps Rhode Islanders remain in their homes by reimbursing 50 percent of the total approved project cost (up to $5,000) of modifying a home to increase accessibility.”

“I think whenever any of us participate in events held by the government, we want to know that we are having a real, tangible impact, and these forums are one way to demonstrate to our community the importance of their voices,” Gleeson added. 

Additional results include the creation of a network of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs, expanding special ballot services with state-of-the-art technology to a wide range of voters with disabilities, requiring the installation of curb cuts and/or ramps at both ends of any pedestrian crosswalk and funding comprehensive instate transitional services for individuals with traumatic brain injury. 

The forums make their way to Peace Dale Public Library, 1057 Kingstown Road, Wakefield, on Tuesday, July 23 from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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