COD and Disabilities Overview
The Commission on Disability’s duties include:
- researching local problems of people with disabilities;
- advising and assisting municipal officials and employees in ensuring compliance with state and federal laws and regulations that affect people with disabilities;
- coordinating or executing programs designed to meet the problems of people with disabilities in coordination with programs of the Massachusetts Office on Disability;
- reviewing and making recommendations about policies, procedures, services, activities and facilities of departments, boards and agencies of Westford as they affect people with disabilities;
- providing information, referrals, guidance and technical assistance to individuals, public agencies, businesses and organizations in all matters pertaining to disability;
- coordinating activities of other local groups organized for similar purposes.
Types of Disabilities
Although “persons with disabilities” are sometimes thought of as a single population, they are actually a diverse group of people with a wide range of needs.
A disability is any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the affected person to perform activities and interact with the world, such as walking, bathing, dressing, eating, preparing meals, going outside the home, or doing housework.
There are many types of disabilities, such as those that affect a person’s:
- Approximately 1,300 Westford residents have a disability1.
- Approximately 83 million Americans have a disability—27% of the U.S. population2.
- About 17.6 percent, or 55.2 million people, had a severe disability2.
- About 10 million aged 18 and older require the assistance of others to perform basic activities of daily living2.
1U.S. Census Bureau, 2010-2014 American Community Survey, Table S1810
2U.S. Census Bureau, Americans with Disabilities: 2014, Report No. p70-152
Disabilities Can Be…
- Related to conditions that are present at birth and may affect functions later in life
- Associated with developmental conditions that become apparent during childhood
- Related to an injury
- Associated with a longstanding condition, which can cause a disability such as vision loss, nerve damage, or limb loss
- Progressive (for example, Alzheimer’s disease), static (for example, limb loss), or intermittent (for example, some forms of multiple sclerosis)
- Hidden—that is, not immediately apparent—often the result of chronic illnesses and conditions that significantly impair normal activities of daily living
In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.
The purpose of the law is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
Here in Massachusetts, the Architectural Access Board (AAB), a regulatory agency within the Massachusetts Office of Public Safety, has a legislative mandate to develop and enforce regulations to make public buildings accessible to, functional for, and safe for use by persons with disabilities.
The AAB has developed a set of "Rules and Regulations," which appear in the code of Massachusetts Regulations as 521 CMR 1.00. They are incorporated in the Massachusetts building code, making them enforceable by all local and state building inspectors, as well as by the Board itself.
Help Is Available
Fortunately, there are many sources of assistance for persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, when a disability first arises, the affected person is in an unfamiliar situation and is generally not aware of available services.
The Commission on Disability (COD) is available to help direct people to appropriate resources, including those offered by several town departments and officials. In addition, Westford’s ADA Coordinator is charged with assuring the town’s compliance with the ADA.
The Commission’s webpage has links to some available resources and to our activities (e.g., meetings). We meet monthly, typically on the fourth Thursday, and all are welcome.
If you would like help in locating specific resources, would like to report a disability-related condition in town, or provide feedback to us, please contact us or attend one of our meetings.