Accessibility questioned at the Old Whaling Church

The Old Whaling Church presents some accessibility issues for town meeting. - Gabrielle Mannino

The Edgartown annual town meeting has been held in the Old Whaling Church for 37 years, but accessibility for voters could be better, according to Edgartown resident Kathleen Fresher-Samways.

Fresher-Samways addressed the board of selectmen at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday, citing several issues, including the church’s steep stairs and acoustics, among other things.

“There are many barriers to participation,” Fresher-Samways wrote in her letter to the board. Samways is the chief quality officer of enabling programs at Island Health Care Community Health Center, and the former associate commissioner on disability affairs for Dukes County. She said the Whaling Church stairs are steep, and not to code for step height. That forces some of the Island’s aging population to climb and descend one foot at a time. Fresher-Samways also mentioned vision and sound concerns. She said lighting is poor for reading the warrant, and general acoustics make it difficult to hear the moderator, town officials, and voter requests.

“Microphone use is not uniform,” she wrote. “Each citizen requesting to speak is not universally expected to step forward, nor is there a floating microphone for those who might not be physically able to approach a standing one.”

Selectman Michael Donaroma agreed lighting could be improved, and noticed “they do wrestle with the mics.” Everyone agreed the elevator on the first floor needs work.

Any changes would be under control of the Preservation Trust, Donaroma said. Executive director and CEO Funi Burdick attended the meeting, and agreed there’s room for improvement with town meeting accessibility.

“We should look at a new elevator,” Burdick said. She said a long-term solution is having an elevator that goes to each of the building’s floors.

Town administrator Pam Dolby said funding could be provided by the Community Preservation Committee, which generates money through a surcharge on property taxes. “Building accessibility is part of the CPC,” administrative assistant Kristy Rose added.

“I was unable to observe a single citizen who was utilizing a wheelchair, and may have seen one person using a walker, at the meeting this year,” Fresher-Samways wrote in her letter. “This does not represent a natural proportion of the population.”

“I want to make sure we can all age here and still vote,” Fresher-Samways said. “As long as we start these conversations now, I figure we can come up with solutions over the next year.”

In other business, selectmen chose a selection committee to assist in appointing a new town administrator. Pam Dolby, who previously announced her retirement, is leaving in July. Personnel board member Marcel LaFlamme, finance advisory committee chairman Paulo DeOliveira, and town clerk Wanda Williams were appointed to serve on the committee.

Selectmen also approved the arrival of a film crew on Martha’s Vineyard on May 20 to film scientists working on a study to “end Lyme.” They’ll be filming on May 21 and May 22 on Chappaquiddick, as well as around Edgartown.