Visitor Angry and Annoyed….ADA Access Meeting @ 6pm

Several business in Woodstock were recently  informed of complaints filed with the Vermont Human Rights Commission about their lack of access or accommodations for people with disabilities.  A meeting will be held tonight at 6pm at the Woodstock History Center  (Woodstock Historical Society on Elm Street) to discuss the issue of coming into compliance with American Disability Act (ADA)  while maintaining the historic character of Woodstock.

Edward Kopelson, Esq.

Woodstock Early Bird has independently learned that the complaints to the VHRC were made by quadriplegic New Jersey Attorney Edward Kopelson who is confined to a wheelchair. According to his website (www.adadisabilitylawyer.com) he takes on public access and discrimination cases, among others, having served at one time for New Jersey Governor Whitman. Kopelson says that those who use “historical building” as an excuse to deny access don’t know what they’re talking about.

Mr. Kopelson visited Woodstock with his wife late last June saying in his complaint to the Vermont Human Rights Commission (obtained by Woodstock Early Bird) that he left the area “angry and annoyed that I cannot return to this quaint town.”  He itemized a list of businesses that had issues that would be a problem under ADA rules. (a post to follow with that list.)
Kopelson said in his general complaint that he stayed at the Woodstock Inn and Resort but was provided with “different terms and service” than had been represented to him. He says that while a van was offered to drive him to area restaurants, its lack of a wheel-chair lift made it impossible for him to gain access to it.  At other non-specific locations throughout the Village, Mr. Kopelson says he was denied service.
Specifically the Vermont Human Rights Commission has dealt with at least three cases (with perhaps one more pending)  that stem from Mr. Kopelson’s formal complaints against specific businesses:
*One involved Bentley’s Restaurant and its step up at the entrance which Mr. Kopelson says prevented him from entering. The case with Bentley’s was settled by the owner’s attorney Thomas Hayes through a promise to build a small access ramp into the restaurant by June 1st, 2012.
*The second case that has already been reviewed and dealt with by the Vermont Human Rights Commission involves the Prince and the Pauper.  The VHRC apparently denied the complaints in a legal “Answer”  as the P&P was able to  summarize the various ways in which it seeks to actively provide and encourage access to people with disabilities within its old 1800’s-era building.  The Prince and the Pauper’s Chris Balcer says over the last 20 years, he and his staff usually host at least one wheelchair bound person a month and there have not been any complaints to date that he can remember.
*The third case involves the Woodstock Inn. Other than the complaint about the lack of accessibility to the van shuttle service, Woodstock Early Bird has not seen any documents regarding the Woodstock Inn complaints with the Vermont Human Rights Commission. We asked the Woodstock Inn’s Werner Graef for more information.
Woodstock Early Bird had heard of one more business having received paperwork related to these ADA access issues but has not seen anything related to the business in documents provided by Mr. Kopelson.  Once the Vermont Human Rights Commission makes a decision, those decisions are posted publically on their website.

5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by William Boardman on May 31, 2012 at 14:55

    The ADA is more than 20 years old, so anyone who hasn’t complied or hasn’t addressed compliance reasonably has no decent excuse.

    This is not to say the ADA doesn’t pose challenging problems. The Superior Court here is not entirely ADA accessible, although some accommodations have been made and the same services are available when needed at the fully accesible courthouse in White River. But the Woodstock courthouse will probably never be fully accesible, at least not as a courthouse — the Supreme Court’s compliance guy came with great optimism to look at the building a few years ago, only to throw up his hands (figuratively) in hopeless horror.

    The Bentley’s solution is simple and elegant compared to what some other Woodstock sites need to be fully compliant.

    The hint of snark at Attorney Kopelson in the report above is entirely unjustified — how dare he assert his rights is the wrong question.

    Like

    • Mr. Boardman, from your comments over the past few months there is really no one snarkier than you.

      Woodstock Early Bird has continued to post your comments since generally you have important things to say.

      However this is MY blog with my point of view. If you don’t like it feel free to not read it or start your own blog.

      There was no snark intended to Mr. Kopelson. In fact if WEB didn’t think there IS an issue to be addressed we wouldn’t have addressed the concerns and written the story.

      If you can’t be respectful to both this editor and WEB readers, it is very simple: your comments will no longer be approved.

      WEB

      Like

  2. Posted by Margaret (Peggy) Kannenstine on June 1, 2012 at 10:02

    To follow up on the ADA issues in town: I have been a wheelchair user in the past, and am fortunate to be able to walk with a cane now. Have been involved in ADA issues in the past as well.

    The Woodstock Inn has handicapped parking spaces in the garage under the South St. sections. However: from there it is a long haul to the elevator and another long haul to the restaurant. It would be good to have an automatic door opener downstairs at the entrance there as well!!!
    A staff person told me that there is an accessible entrance through the new spa, but I haven’t tried it out. it seems as though it would also be a long distance to go.

    As a major host and employer, I hope the Inn will take more steps to become compliant.

    One of the things that I think will always be hard in our town is assuring the main entrance to places is accessible-as ADA describes.

    Like

    • Hi Peggy,

      Thanks for the details. We have spoken with Werner Graef at The Woodstock Inn who says the hotel is fully ADA compliant with the access points you describe. I think what is hard, is, as you say, to provide full accessibility via traditional front entrances. It’s worth discussing and exploring. WEB

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      • Posted by William Boardman on June 1, 2012 at 13:22

        The expectation of the ADA is EQUAL access.
        This is very hard to achieve, especially the older the building.
        The Inn has made some accommodation,
        but clearly there is not equal access to the front entrance.
        Whether the Inn is in compliance or not is mere argument
        until it is litigated.

        Like

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