In early October, Caitlin Haynes started her role as the American Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator and community relations specialist at the Town of Brookline’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Relations.
Her primary role is to make sure that schools, town departments, public areas, and new businesses are up to code with local and national ADA regulations. She compiles reports on variances and makes assessments of new compliances to ensure that they are acceptable to everyone in the community. She does not work on private residences.
“I’m really excited,” Haynes said about applying those regulations to make positive changes in Brookline.
During the last couple months sitting on the Commission on Disability (COD) and walking around Brookline, Haynes has already noticed areas in Brookline that she says needed to change. “The physical aspects of walking in Brookline or if you’re using a wheelchair could be a bit better,” she said.
When it came to parking, she said the accessible parking spaces in the Kent Street lot did not meet ADA code, because no diagonal lines are surrounding these spots for vans with lifts to function properly. Also, she didn’t notice any handicap parking in one of the 12 parking spots on Webster Street in Coolidge Corner. She plans to discuss this issue with the commission, but in the meantime, she continues to keep an eye out.
The effort to improve accessibility on a larger scale had become Hayne’s primary goal. “I have a master’s [degree] in public health, and I really wanted to use my education and experience to work on a systemic, advocacy level to really work on the entire population,” she said explaining why she sought out the role.
Chief Diversity Officer Lloyd Gellineau stated that there had been changes to how COD operates. The commission will pursue more intensive oversight of public and private construction projects, and influence more regional and national policy for disabilities. With Haynes now part of the commission, Gellineau looks forward to seeing more town programs for disabilities.
“Her experience and knowledge will be extremely helpful in developing programs in conjunction with the Commission on Disabilities,” he said. “I am absolutely delighted to have Caitlin as part of the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Team.”
Her efforts could extend beyond physical infrastructure to assessing government websites, and making sure that technology is advanced enough to, for instance, read photo captions for people who are blind. It was one of the jobs she did back when she worked in Watertown at the Perkins school with 13 students, ages 14 to 21, who had visual impairments, and cognitive and physical disabilities. She started working there as a direct care teaching assistant in 2009, which is also the same year when she received a bachelor’s degree in health science at Boston University. At Perkins, she became an assistant coordinator helping clinicians and medical specialists collaborate with educational and residential programs for students. She worked there for six years, right into her graduate years at Northeastern University, where she received her master’s degree in public health in 2015.
In 2013, she interned as a program assistant in community health at the Brookline Department of Health. In 2014, she interned at the Boston Center for Independent Living. The following year, she started working there as a Nursing Home Transition advocate. She worked on more than 90 cases, helping people who have undergone rehab move back into living independently. She collaborated with facilities all over Boston, Cambridge, and metro west area. She said that it is all about “making sure people live the life they want despite having a disability and being told that they have to live in a nursing facility.”
In addition to Haynes’s primary responsibility as the ADA coordinator, she’s involved in other diversity matters, assisting others in obtaining health insurance and food stamp benefits, and providing supports to town departments. Since October, she’s been transitioning into her role, and getting to know all of the town commissions and committees.
Haynes joined the Brookline Together initiative to help promote civic engagement in Brookline. Haynes and other town department representatives inform Brookline residents and employees of volunteer and job opportunities, as well as educate them on Brookline politics. The dissemination of information takes forms in various ways like a fun bingo game at the Brookline Day event or simply standing outside chatting with people at the Brookline First Light event. One of Haynes’s current projects with other committees is with the MLK celebration committee. She will help run the event on January 16 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre at 3 p.m. In the meantime, she is in charge of taking meeting minutes, publishing them to the town’s website, and getting flyers out.
It’s events like these that remind Haynes what she likes most about Brookline, how engaged residents are with their community, especially when it comes to town meetings.
“Town meetings were always so full, and there’s so much to discuss,” she said remembering days when she interned at the health department. “There are a lot of people who want to say things and make changes.”
Along with the community of Brookline, Haynes will continue to make changes. “I am optimistic about my position,” she said.