After a letter from borough resident Amy Welsh, several Collingswood storefronts will install locally made handrails to improve accessibility for patrons.
By Matt Skoufalos | May 6, 2021
For former rehab nurse Amy Welsh, advocating for people with disabilities is more than an abstract pursuit, it’s a personal priority.
In 2012, Welsh, whose son Isaiah Sutter uses a wheelchair for his mobility, helped update a state law to ensure that schoolchildren who require specialized nursing care have qualified supports in the classroom.
And this week, her efforts helped improve accessibility for shoppers in the Collingswood downtown business district.
“I have to adapt the world for my son all the time,” Welsh said.
“Everyone’s disability is just a little bit different; maybe the standard products don’t do what you need them to do.
“Most people don’t have to think about these kinds of things until it affects someone that they know,” she said. “ADA or not, there’s going to be a lot of non-wheelchair-accessible things in life.”
For both Sutter and Welsh’s sister, Stacie, who relies upon a cane to get around, navigating many of the Haddon Avenue shops without assistance is a challenge. So in January, Welsh reached out to Collingswood mayor Jim Maley to ask about improving accessibility in the local business district.
“Even though ADA was passed 30 years ago, there’s still a lot of the world that’s inaccessible to them,” Welsh said. “There’s not a lot of consideration for people with mobility differences.
“When you have a historic business district, the walkways can’t be impeded; you don’t want to alter the facades of the business buildings,” she said. “[But] if you were suddenly to have to rely on a person or a device to get around, it would change your whole life.”
Welsh noticed a potential solution to the issue while walking the town with her son: one of her neighbors’ properties had a single step up from the curb with a posted railing.
“I said, ‘This would be perfect, because it wouldn’t really take away from the historic aesthetic of the businesses, and yet it may provide the assistance to allow so many more people to have access to the stores,’” she recalled.
When Maley got Welsh’s letter, he passed it on to Rebecca Callaway, the borough Director of Community and Business Development, and asked her to inventory the local business district to assess the extent of the need for the project.
With the help of intern David Nelson, an Eagleton Fellow with Rutgers University, the borough Business Improvement District (BID) set to identifying property owners to get their consent for the upgrade.
So far nine businesses— Grooveground, Extraordinary Ed, Songbird Karaoke, The Factory, TAR Salon, Cynplicity, Perkins Center for the Arts, Redwood Durable, and Symphony in C—have signed on to get handrails installed.
That’s about one-third of the total (28) number of stores that could use greater accessibility options, Callaway said. The project will cost an estimated $5,000, a portion of which will be covered by donations from Parc Bank of Collingswood.
The handrails were themselves fabricated by Stout’s Metal Products. Owner Larry Stout, a 38-year borough resident, said he was excited to participate in a project to help support his hometown.
“It’s a great project to help everybody out,” Stout said. “Collingswood being an old town, there’s not a lot of accessibility on Haddon Avenue.
“A lot of people need help, and for something so simple and so easily done, for somebody just to get behind the wheel and push it to get it done, kudos to the [Welsh] sisters for making it happen,” he said.
Good things happening in the Borough today! ☀️Resident Amy Welsh, inspired by her sister, contacted the Borough about a…
Posted by Borough of Collingswood on Tuesday, May 4, 2021
When Stout installed the first handrail at Grooveground Tuesday morning, he said the feeling of getting the project off the ground and seeing it in use was “priceless.
“The stores are hopping on board with it,” he said. “If one person doesn’t get in their store, that could be a sale they don’t get.”
Callaway said she appreciated the opportunity to hear feedback from a borough resident and to resolve their problem.
“It’s really important that residents know that they can come to the borough with issues like this; areas of improvement that may be overlooked,” she said.
“That’s all part of building community: everyone’s input is heard,” Callaway said; “whatever you can do to make life better.”
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