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Disabled people can become more “able” with new Oxford Commission on Disability

Photo & story by Connie Reddy Dwyer

In a meeting at the handicapped (HP) accessible Oxford Public Library, Mrs. Deb Lamarche, who is wheelchair bound, spoke about  Oxford’s new Commission on Disability, approved by last month’s Town Meeting with 100% support.

Accompanied by her caregiver, Selectman Dennis Lamarche, Deb explained, “people do not realize how difficult it is for a challenged person with disabilities to open a door—or to get in and out of a bathroom—basics for anyone who is physically able.” The new committee consists the following: Chairwoman Deb Lamarche, Vice-Chair Verina Berthiaume, Secretary Kelley Twombly, Selectman Meaghan Troiano, and Carol Kzudal.

The newly-formed commission will allow the town to receive funding through grants; applications for two have already been submitted.

The first grant is to “plan and update our ADA (American Disabilities Act) plan established in 1994” by working with the Massachusetts Disability Committee. The second grant is to make improvements at Joslin Park downtown.  Deb shared that she nearly fell out of her wheelchair there due to the grass and lack of sidewalks in the area. The commission wants to install a ramp for people with disabilities. She said, “The dips and valleys in the grass make wheelchairs get stuck.” The commission also wants to provide more HP parking spots and sidewalks.

Dennis further explained, “…according to the Town of Oxford’s bylaw only one HP parking space is allowed for every 25 spaces.”

Deb says she hopes this will change, adding that the commission wants to

improve access anywhere in Town for all persons with disabilities, those in wheelchairs, using walkers or canes and the blind and hearing impaired.”  She said the Massachusetts Office of Disabilities will work closely with the group to provide necessary resources.

Dennis also brought up that in his many talks with Arthur Frost of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation about the need to have and improve sidewalks for the handicapped.” But Dennis says he’ll persist and will continue to pursue the need for sidewalks and improvements in Oxford.  He stressed to Arthur Frost that because there are no sidewalks, he has to push his wife’s wheelchair in the road.

They both remarked how too many drivers occupy a HP parking spot to run in to get a pizza, for example, barring the handicapped person from having a space to park. Although illegal, “drivers still do it…”

Asked about how long she has been in a wheelchair, she said it’s been “about 5 years, and prior to that I used a cane for several years.” Deb said that it took many years, but she was finally diagnosed with MS in 2006. Dennis gave up his teaching job to be at home for Deb, recognizing that it is a progressive illness.

Besides being an Oxford Selectman, Dennis is a professional carpenter. He built a ranch home to make it easier for Deb to get around in her wheelchair. All rooms are HP accessible.

Deb and Dennis have been married and residents of Oxford for 45 years. Deb concluded the meeting saying, “We want to improve our Town and to provide more resources for the disabled so all can enjoy our beautiful Town of Oxford.”