Bankole: Detroit’s disability community demands office at City Hall
"You cannot be a comeback city until you take into consideration people who need accommodation so that they can have the same access that abled people have,” said Baba Baxter Jones, outspoken member of the Detroit disability community, to members of the Detroit Charter Commission Tuesday evening.
Jones’ demands are part of a larger effort to have a Detroit Office of Disability Affairs written into the next City Charter. A focus group for people with disabilities made up of several organizations such as Warriors on Wheels, the Collective for Disability Justice, Blast Detroit and Detroit Disability Power have been campaigning to establish a formal office at City Hall that would cater to the diverse needs of the disability community.
According to a plan presented to the commission, the office would be staffed with 17 individuals with various expertise in disability needs and headed by an executive director. Its annual budget would be under $3 million.
“Barriers to full and equal participation obstruct accessible housing, good jobs, safe environments, equitable education and reliable transportation,” said Jeffrey Nolish, policy director for Detroit Disability Power. “The Office of Disability Affairs will benefit the disability community by providing a new approach — one with the understanding, expertise, and authority to champion a future where all people with disabilities thrive.”
Nolish said it’s time for Detroit to model what cities like New York, Philadelphia and others have done in giving those with disability a formal seat at the table.
“The mayor saw value in providing a central point of focus and building out initiatives within the Housing and Revitalization Department, the Department of Transportation and Detroit Employment Solutions. He also saw value in exploring opportunities to improve upon digital access and language access, and he suggested quarterly meetings,” Nolish said. “We’re excited about each and every one of these ideas. However, we still see room for improvement with emergency preparedness, disability service facilitators (to provide expertise, understanding, education and training) in every department, request and referral management, disability awareness and de-escalation training within the Detroit Police Department, and elevating people with disabilities into all aspects of planning and development.”
Detroit City Council president Brenda Jones is also on board.
Nolish said the most recent census report shows that about 19% of Detroiters, a majority of which are women, are reported to have a disability of one form or another.
“We don’t want to silo the disability community with a competition of needs. What we want is to shine a light on every intersectional identity,” Nolish said.
Jamie Junior, 43, another disability advocate, agreed.
“The need is great,” Junior said. “The most vulnerable citizens are vastly being abandoned in this recovery. We want a centralized office that would be a liaison between the community and the city.”
Jones added, “There are too many of us that live in this city not to accommodate us with anything else than an office and a department that will advocate for every single need that we have.”
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