After initially taking his fight to the streets of Seymour, resident Joseph Luciano has picked a new battle closer to home.
Luciano, 74, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around since a stroke left him with reduced use of his legs and one arm, recently filed a complaint against Oakbridge Management with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. The commission is charged with investigating complaints of discrimination and enforcing anti-discrimination laws.
The complaint alleges discrimination on the part of the company for failing to make reasonable accommodations to the high rise building where Luciano lives. He previously complained to state commissions about the condition of downtown Seymour’s sidewalks and has lobbied against allotting Seymour state funds to make downtown improvements.
In his complaint, Luciano alleges discrimination on the part of Oakbridge failing to make the Fallview Apartments building handicap accessible. For example, the laundry room in the building is not accessible to him in his wheelchair.
But the most serious and potentially dangerous situation is the building’s front door.
“The apartment is in a high rise building with a security system for the entry doors,” Luciano wrote in his affidavit. “The security system requires that I use a key to unlock the door and then I have to maneuver my wheelchair and try to ‘catch’ the door to pry it open. I then have to try to hold the door open and maneuver myself through the door.”
Luciano said entering the building was extremely difficult to do and sometimes painful because the heavy security door closes on him. With his medical conditions, though, there are times he simply cannot get the door open long and wide enough to enter the building and has to resort to ringing neighbors’ bells or waiting for someone to enter or leave the building, a situation he describes as a nightmare.
“I am afraid to leave my home and yet I must go out to get to the daily needs of living,” he wrote. “No one else has to go through what I have to simply to gain entrance to their home.”
In response, Oakbridge manager Joseph Nesteriak said the company had made a good faith effort to accommodate Luciano. Among the efforts the company has made is allowing Luciano access to another building in the complex, which does have a handicap-accessible laundry room.
Also, Nesteriak said tenants are prohibited from using any kind of device to prop the security doors open, he disputed Luciano’s claim that entering the building was difficult or impossible.
“It is our understanding that Mr. Luciano does ably maneuver through the front door as he shows in a video he posted on Youtube,” Nesteriak wrote.
In the video, which Luciano posted under the handle “5FingersJoe,” and titled “Getting into Fallview Apts 2013 06 06,” Luciano is able to get into the building in about a minute, using a wooden doorstop on a string to prop the door open. Once inside, Luciano tugs the string, allowing the door to close behind him. Watch video here.
The video demonstrates Luciano is capable of letting himself into the building, and the company has never denied him reasonable accommodations, Nesteriak said. For example, in addition to allowing him to use an alternate laundry room, the company also modified the outdoor mailboxes, allowing Luciano easier access. These modifications were fairly costly, and the company was under no legal requirement to make them, Nesteriak said.