'Inclusive of all people': Fairfield looks to meet the needs of people with disabilities

File photo of Fairfield's Old Town Hall

File photo of Fairfield’s Old Town Hall

File photo / File photo

FAIRFIELD — Transportation, housing, advocacy and education are all issues facing residents with disabilities in town and areas a new commission hopes to address.

The selectmen recently approved creating a standalone commission for people with disabilities after a presentation from Fairfield’s Human Services Commission.

“This commission has been five years in the making,” Julie DeMarco, director of human and social services, said at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting. “We started quite some time ago with a lot of homework and research and it’s come to the point where it came out of the Human Services Commission as a true need for the town to have.”

The Human Services Commission initially launched a temporary three-year committee for people with disabilities in 2018 to determine the need for a more permanent commission. During that year the commission issued a town-wide survey, a method they have continued to use to gauge information, that was designed to determine the specific needs of people with disabilities in Fairfield.

The three-week survey resulted in key findings that included: 65 percent of respondents are involved in some way with someone with a disability, 38 percent provide care for an individual 65 or older with a disability, and 75 percent indicated local and regional resources and support for individuals with disabilities “could be improved.”

Also, 82 percent of respondents supported the establishment of a town task force to identify resources and support for individuals with disabilities.

More recently, the committee conducted a study across several other towns to see if and how they were addressing the needs for people with disabilities. The group determined that there were many towns that participated in this and even sought out a few to find out more information.

Human Services Commission Chair Laura Incerto said the experience was “enlightening” and reinforced the idea that Fairfield could do something to help.

Loretta Jay, a member of the Human Services Commission, said the idea for the disability commission is to be “proactive not reactive.”

“Its purpose would be to ensure that Fairfield is a welcoming community where people with disabilities can [live] inclusive and fulfilling lives, participating and contributing as active members of our town,” Jay said.

“Taking this from where we are currently as a committee and making it into a standalone commission, would allow commissioners to focus specifically on the matters that pertain to people with not just visible disabilities, but invisible disabilities,” she added. “That’s a really important distinction to make sure that we’re recognizing. We want to be inclusive of all people that have disabilities and letting our community help recognize those invisible disabilities.”

As Jay puts it, creating the standalone commission will send a clear message that the town values the rights of people with disabilities

“We will be a support to the town when emerging issues arise and can create opportunities to promote positive change,” Jay said.