Detroit launches plan to improve access to jobs, housing for disabled residents

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan on Monday announced a multi-year plan to improve access to housing, transportation and employment for the city's disabled residents. 

The mayor said the proposal is the product of months of coordination between his office, multiple city departments, including the Detroit's Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity Department and community groups. 

The announcement comes six months after Detroit's Office of Disability Affairs was established, a move Duggan described as a commitment to "making clear to the disabled members of our community that they were fully valued and that we wanted their talents and contributions." 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan holds a briefing at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters on Thursday, March 4, 2021. The mayor on Monday joined with city departments and disability advocates to detail a multi-year plan to improve access to jobs, housing and transportation for Detroit's disabled residents.

Duggan unveiled the three-year plan during a joint press conference with city officials and community organizers on the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

CRIO Director Kim Rustem said the department was commemorating the anniversary by making sure all Detroiters felt represented by the city's policies. 

The first year of the plan, she said, will focus on adding a disability liaison in every city department to ensure that the systematic improvements they intend to implement are carried out. They hope to increase public engagement as well, and are developing ways to ensure complaints and suggestions submitted by the public are handled efficiently. 

"This is not possible without the buy-in of every single partner that's here today," said Rustem. "I'm so thrilled and proud of how many leaders across our city departments have been part of this initiative." 

Director of the Office of Disability Affairs Christopher Samp, through an American Sign Language interpreter, elaborated on the rest of the plan, including steps to improve  disability awareness in the workplace and through mobility with better sidewalk conditions, accessible parking, and public transportation. Outreach to the disabled community when it comes to employment opportunities are also key, he said. 

The city also plans to develop a map for housing with accessible units, to be made available at the beginning of 2022. 

"I'm going to use this opportunity now to ensure that we do everything that we can to influence policy changes for a universal participation, and increasing accessibility," said Samp. "I look forward to working with our community partners and disability advocates to transform Detroit to be more of a warm and accessible city."

The final stage of the plan covers community impact, during which officials will ask community members to evaluate the plan's performance and progress, while working to training law enforcement officers and emergency responders on ways to interact with disabled residents. 

"It's long, long overdue," said Lisa Franklin, CEO and founder of Warriors on Wheels of Metropolitan Detroit. "People are really tired of falling through the cracks.

"We've worked for the past 12 years to make sure people with disabilities are not forgotten, so I'm glad to see the strong structure of how the city plans to move forward," Franklin added. 

Earlier this month, The Detroit News reported that the city is weighing changes to its transportation program for residents with disabilities after receiving complaints of unreliability about the French company that operates the system and its vendors, including people being dropped off at the wrong addresses.

The city's $12.6 million annual contract with the French transportation provider Transdev is up for renewal in February. City officials are debating whether to take over providing some paratransit services or at least provide more oversight, which riders advocated for.

Mikel Oglesby, Detroit's executive director of transit, told Detroit's City Council in mid-June that the Duggan administration is reviewing potential alternatives to define a new program by September. 

Dessa Cosma, executive director of Detroit Disability Power, noted that the access plan for disabled residents shared Monday can be "a manual for humanity."

"So we ask the office of the mayor, to please stay this path," she said. "It means a great deal to hundreds of thousands of Detroiters."