Gov. Maggie Hassan speaks during the Governor's Accessibility Awards at the State House in Concord on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
CONCORD — A Tamworth church that made it easier for the disabled to maneuver was among those honored by the governor Tuesday for going beyond what the federal Americans with Disabilities Act law required.
“St. Andrew’s has done what they’ve done simply because it was the right thing to do and they wanted to include all members of the community, so we really honor them in doing the right thing even though they didn’t have to,” Ellen Keith, a member of the executive committee of the New Hampshire Governor’s Commission on Disability, said during the awards ceremony in the Executive Council Chamber.
Churches and religious organizations are exempt from the law’s legal mandates, Keith said.
St. Andrew’s-in-the-Valley, an Episcopal Church, cut pews to make room for wheelchairs, added wing chairs for a few parishioners needing neck support and built a new wheelchair ramp for its parish hall among other improvements.
“We serve the community in a huge way,” the Rev. Heidi Frantz-Dale said after the ceremony. The church hosts a weekly dinner, a food pantry, Boy Scouts and Alcoholics Anonymous. “We have a history of doing the right thing,” she said.
T. Sammie Wakefield of Moultonborough, a church leader during much of the renovation planning, gave Gov. Maggie Hassan a big hug during the ceremony. Wakefield said she was an occupational therapist who worked with the governor’s grown son, Ben, who is physically disabled, for about 15 years.
The governor praised the award recipients and talked about how the law as well as advocates for the disabled helped her family and the greater community.
“Every time we bring people in from the margins in this country into the heart and soul of our democracy and our community, we get stronger, and the Hassan family felt like any other family because we could live like any other family,” Hassan said.
As an attorney who represented businesses prior to her governorship, Hassan said “the ADA really helped employers think bigger, think differently” about all their employees.
About a half-dozen groups and individuals were honored, including the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester for its cultural arts center, which offers programs to accommodate people with a variety of disabilities.
The University of New Hampshire was recognized for providing accessible policies throughout its programs, services and campus.
The Strafford County Department of Corrections was honored for its employees and institutions going behind the law’s requirement in its programs and services offered to employees and inmates.
Robin Carlson, of Rochester, was cited for being a leader, educator and direct service provider for people and their caretakers in the developmentally disability community.
Receiving honorable mention were Guy Woodland of Concord and Ken Jones of Amherst for their work on a bill addressing parking accessibility.