Monday, April 15, 2024

ACT, DRO Hold Town Hall to Make Toledo More Accessible

The Ability Center and Disability Rights Ohio held a town hall, Friday, Feb. 23 to discuss ways to make the Greater Toledo Area more accessible for everyone, especially those with disabilities. 

Many local politicians and service directors, including Toledo City Council Members Theresa Gadus, Adam Martinez, Theresa Morris, George Sarantou and Lucas County Commissioner Anita Lopez, came to listen to the issues that disabled Lucas County citizens experience.

Several community members with disabilities shared personal stories of problems they have experienced in the area regarding transportation, education, infrastructure, housing and medical problems, including Katie Shelley, Jennie Geiman, Jimmy Kolopajlo and Angie Goodnight.

Jordan Ballinger, Policy Director for Disability Rights Ohio and Stuart James, Executive Director of The Ability Center. Photo provided via The Ability Center.

These community members served as spokespeople to advocate for themselves, as well as other disabled members of the community to enact change for the different areas Toledo needs to improve.

Other community members with disabilities in attendance shared similar struggles for each topic. 

Wheelchair users often struggle to find accommodating transportation, according to Shelley, who is the Manager of Access Initiatives for the Toledo Museum of Art, with many having to schedule wheelchair-accessible rides at least 24 hours in advance.

“I would love to see more on-demand transit available across Northwest Ohio, more things similar to ride share. We do not have great or accessible rideshare options in the Northwest Ohio area. And sometimes you would like luxury and it shouldn’t be a luxury of deciding, ‘Hey, I want to go see a movie. Oh wait, I haven’t scheduled 24 hours in advance to go see a movie,’” Shelly said.

She also expressed the need for a better passenger rail system both locally and nationally. 

“I think (passenger railway systems) will increase independence in travel not only locally within Ohio to different cities throughout Ohio but with country travel as well, because airline travel is not accessible to people with disabilities,” Shelly said.

RELATED: Library Highlights the Disability Community of Toledo

Lucas County politicians responded with areas that the Toledo city plans to improve transportation. 

“So one of the things that we’re trying to do is get frequent intercity passenger rail, that would be able to, you could go down to an Ohio State game, if you don’t like Ohio State, you can go up north to Ann Arbor. You could go to Chicago on a shopping trip. You could go wherever you wanted to go,” Morris, District 6 City Council Member and sponsor for the study of Passenger Rail in the Northwest Ohio area, said. 

Morris also discussed creating a train station where people could also potentially live and travel at a “moment’s notice.” 

Geiman, Team Services and Dream Coordinator for The Ability Center, discussed education and the need to make accommodations more accessible to students with disabilities, as well as making schools a more compassionate, supportive and inclusive environment for all students. 

According to Geiman, smaller class sizes and crisis-response training would benefit all students, especially those with disabilities. 

She also discussed expanding the curriculum to educate students about people with disabilities. 

“I would like to see that expand even further and to become part of the curriculum to talk about some of the things that people with disabilities have gone through in school and in the community, the civil rights issues that we went through in the past and that we still go through should be talked about,” Geiman said.

Kolopajlo, a Lourdes University accounting student and self-advocate, discussed several issues he has faced in the Toledo area, including infrastructure and medical barriers. 

According to Kolopajlo, Toledo has several infrastructure issues that make accessibility difficult for people with disabilities that need to be addressed. “One infrastructure barrier has been across the Toledo area and just bumps in the buildings, some of them are large, like one to two inches, some are bigger, some are smaller. But they prevented me from being able to access a lot of benefits, in like the private and sometimes even the public sector.”

He suggested these businesses install threshold ramps to make them more accessible.

Photo provided via The Ability Center.

Several Lucas County politicians expressed their commitment to making Toledo more accessible for people with disabilities. 

According to Anita Lopez, Lucas County Commissioner, businesses are required to be ADA compliant, and each ADA violation is a $110,000 fine.

“I could throw a stone and hit 10 cases. It’s bad, it’s been a continuing duty to make your place accessible for the last 35 years, there are tax incentives that are available, but other than that, this is something that business should have been budgeting for,” Valerie Fatica, Disability Manager for the City of Toledo said.

Koloapajlo also discussed the medical barriers he has faced in Toledo.

According to Koloapajlo, many medical offices do not have the proper equipment to assess people with disabilities. Some people with disabilities face barriers including, not being able to get weighed properly, difficulty being transferred to X-ray or MRI tables or obtaining accessible dental and vision exams. 

The Ability Center has been working on making Toledo medical offices more accessible, according to Katie Thomas, Disability Rights Attorney and Director of Advocacy for The Ability Center. “We are currently in an education campaign to let offices know what they need to do to make themselves accessible, there is actually a federal rule that is likely to get passed very soon that will require things like accessible medical diagnostic equipment like the scales, like the lifts that would get somebody onto a table,” Thomas said.

Goodnight, Navigator for the Ability Center of Toledo, discussed homelessness in Toledo, and the need for affordable housing and rental assistance across the Greater Toledo area. 

“We do not have enough housing to go around for the individuals that need it,” Goodnight said.

She also highlighted the discrimination that people with disabilities face when seeking housing. Even though it is illegal, it is an issue many disabled and low-income people face in Toledo.

Disability Rights Ohio holds town halls across the state of Ohio to advocate for people with disabilities in their local governments. This town hall was the largest the Disability Rights Ohio has held yet, according to Jordan Ballinger, the Policy Director for Disability Rights Ohio. It gave community members with disabilities the chance to communicate directly with their local politicians and community decision-makers and advocate for the changes that need to be made in Toledo to make it a city that is accessible for everyone.

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