The task at hand was preparing for Access Ridgewood, the group's annual weekend of disability awareness programs and events for children, teens and adults of varying abilities. The committee is preparing for what it expects will be the largest event since its inception five years ago.
Ines Bunza, the president of Ridgewood’s Learning Services Home and School Association, which represents 960 families of students with disabilities, said that the group has cast a wider net this year, seeking to involve those from both within and outside the village.
“The word got out very quickly, and I think it’s because it includes everybody,” she said.
The highlights of the program this weekend include awareness events at each Ridgewood school throughout the day Friday, a family pumpkin decoration at 5 p.m. and a teen dance at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, children of all abilities will walk the runway in a library fashion show at 1:30 p.m., and from noon to 3 p.m. various organizations will be on hand at village hall to provide information on services for those with disabilities.
The weekend ends Sunday with a soccer match at 1 p.m. at B.F. Middle School, and an interfaith service at the First Reformed Church at 7 p.m. (A complete event listing is attached to this article.)
While planning the annual weekend takes up much of the committee’s monthly, year-round meetings, advocacy on a variety of issues big and small has also marked the five-year history of the organization.
It's become "a platform for addressing disability issues" for local families, according to Mayor Paul Aronsohn, who spearheaded the committee after he was first elected to the village council. "It can become all-consuming, and sometimes you don't know where to turn."
Some issues are not readily
apparent. A survey of handicapped parking spaces in the village, for example, was undertaken by the committee. And when NJ Transit renovated the train station, CAN members’
understanding of the details of accessibility helped ensure that nobody was excluded by the details of the project.
But there are more challenging issues. The recently approved accessibility ramp at Graydon became controversial among some who opposed changing the appearance of the historic pool. And a looming issue for many is a lack of available local housing for adults with special needs, and the hope for some rests in reserving units in the proposed multifamily developments that have already become controversial.
Despite a challenging mandate, the work remains passionate.
“It’s fun to be part of something that you see evolve, and does so much good,” said Janet Fricke, assistant to the village manager, who also sits on the committee. “We’ve all learned and grown in the process.”
And regardless of attendance at the weekend's events, all operated on a shoestring budget, the presence of programs around Ridgewood, they hope, in itself will drive the broader awareness important to their cause.
“There’s a little something for everybody. We tried to make this as community-wide as possible,” Aronsohn said. “I think the more we do, the more awareness we promote, the stronger a community we become.”