il Pomod'Oro will serve up handicapped access after all

When I caught up Wednesday afternoon with East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson, to talk about the lack of handicapped access at the new il Pomod'Oro restaurant in his town, he still was under the impression the business had obtained an accessibility waiver from the state.

Nickerson was frustrated that I had reported the restaurant appeared to be in violation, he said, because the town building official had assured him there was nothing the town could do about enforcing handicapped access requirements, in light of the state waiver.

Nickerson also was rightfully annoyed that I had reported he had not responded to a phone message about access at the restaurant, which indeed he had. I apologized for not seeing his return call from Tuesday morning in my crowded inbox.

I apparently also convinced the first selectman in our chat Wednesday that, if he looked more closely into the issue, he would find there was in fact no waiver from the state, at least for the general access to the restaurant.

By late Wednesday, I got an email from the first selectman in which he reported that the town had reached an agreement with the restaurant owner, Petrit Marku of Waterford, to correct the lack of handicapped access at il Pomod'Oro.

"There seemed to be legitimate misinterpretation of the decision by all involved," Nickerson wrote about a handicapped access waiver the state granted the owner in 2014 for a small addition to the kitchen, not the entire building.

"All have vowed to correct the situation and make the new business compliant with the rules," he said.

The deal to provide legal handicapped access was worked out on a Wednesday afternoon phone call that included himself, the restaurant owner and town Chief Building Inspector Joseph Smith.

Nickerson also generously thanked me for bringing the situation to light.

"I am hopeful all citizens will be better served once we have corrected this situation," he wrote.

I'm glad, too, that common sense has been brought to bear. I am sure the first selectman will follow through to be sure the work is done.

The access in place since the restaurant opened — asking customers to phone a number to ask for help being carried up the steep front steps — was not only impractical but disrespectful.

The wide response to the first column was encouraging. I heard from many official voices in what is clearly a well-established advocacy community for the handicapped.

I also heard from many people who probably don't even know anyone in a wheelchair who still felt offended and angry on their behalf.

It goes to show how far we've come since the early tentative and sometimes complaining compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990. It is now apparently so much a part of our culture that most people expect new or substantially remodeled buildings should have equal access for all.

I also was encouraged to learn that the office of the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut, responsible for enforcing the ADA, had by Wednesday already taken up a review of the lack of access at il Pomod'Oro.

The office just this week announced a settlement with a restaurant and inn in Westport in which they have committed to a series of handicapped-access improvements.

It's good to know a federal intervention won't be needed in East Lyme.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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