Monday, April 15, 2024

A Disability-Friendly City: Toledo Works to Accommodate People with Disabilities

In February 2021, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, along with the support of Katie Hunt Thomas of the Ability Center of Greater Toledo and Angie Goodnight, chairperson of the Toledo-Lucas County Commission on Disabilities, announced the creation of a Mayor’s Office on Disability, one of only a few in the United States (Along with Chicago, San Francisco, Baltimore, Houston, Austin, Philadelphia and Tampa, among others).  The announcement was in response to 10 local disability centers, including the Ability Center, requests of the Mayor, stressing the importance of making accessibility a stated priority.

Mayor Kapszukiewicz was immediately receptive to their ideas, responding within weeks to their proposal. In announcing the Office on Disability, the Mayor emphasized the importance of going beyond the requirements of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a nondiscriminatory act that establishes accessibility standards for state and local governments. 

“We believe this is the first office of its kind in the state of Ohio,” Mayor Kapszukiewicz said. “Every municipality must have an ADA coordinator, which Toledo has had for many years, with varied effectiveness. This office establishes a Mayor’s Office on Disability, which is a huge leap forward in ensuring that Toledo is the most disability-friendly city in the nation. Everything we do, we want to make sure it is through the lens of making our city open and welcoming to everyone,” Mayor Kapszukiewicz added.

The Office, created with the intent to influence City operations, an ambitious and forward-thinking goal, has been in place for 3 years. What steps have been taken and where is there room for improvement?

Tangible Results

Housing

The City of Toledo will claim up to $10 million of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds to address its housing needs. In October 2023, Toledo’s administration drafted a Pathway to Removing Obstacles (PRO) Housing Grant Application. Grant funds can be used to remove barriers from affordable housing, including accessibility improvements.

Transportation

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) proposed a shift for operational funding of the Authority from property taxes to sales tax. Beginning April 1, 2022, TARTA operations have been funded by a half-percent increase in sales tax. City officials are hopeful that this enhanced funding source will allow for a resurgence in services,  providing a more well-rounded public transportation system throughout the greater Toledo area.

Employment

Toledo continues to implement disability-friendly and discriminatory free hiring policies.  To meet development and revitalization goals, agencies such as the Ability Center, the Commission on Disabilities, and the Mayor’s Office on Disabilities are available to ensure projects meet the needs of everyone, including those with disabilities.

Public Spaces

Another example of how this re-invigorated focus to make Toledo the most disability-friendly city in the country, can be found at the Glass City Metropark and the area’s park system in general, striving to foster inclusion and accessibility within its parks. 

Over the last few years, many parks have been re-designed and re-built to meet accessibility standards more closely. From the Glass City Riverwalk to Secor Metropark’s wheelchair accessible playground to the Toledo Botanical Garden’s Doneghy Inclusive Garden, improvements to outdoor spaces are opening these destinations for all people.


RELATED: Actively Advocating: Community Members Support Those with Disabilities


Toledo City Paper spoke with Valerie Fatica, the City of Toledo’s Disability Manager, about other steps the city has taken to become more disability-friendly. 

To name a few, COT rolled out a Voluntary Self-Identification form to their on-boarding process, which assists in tracking recruitment of employees with disabilities; placed an intern from the Toledo Transition program into the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) department; trained Toledo Police Department cadets on disabled parking abuse and enforcement as well as utilizing deaf communication cards in all patrol cars; removed a number of barriers for city-owned facilities, an on-going process to foster accessibility; launched Snow Angels to help over 200 residents with snow removal; and developed a closed captioning ordinance within their Engage Toledo, Code Compliance and Marketing departments.

The inaugural Disabled and Proud Festival attracted approximately 150 attendees, with another festival in the works for 2024, and city departments celebrated Disability Employment Awareness Month in partnership with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities. 

The City of Toledo is developing and implementing disability-friendly policies throughout all the City and surrounding areas. toledo.oh.gov/accessibility. toledo.oh.gov/departments/diversity-equity-and-inclusion/disability 

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