Ferndale Launches Accessibility and Inclusion Advisory Commission

Ferndale Launches Accessibility and Inclusion Advisory Commission

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Dec. 2, 2019)

Ferndale, MI – While recovering from foot surgery earlier this year, Ferndale Mayor Dan Martin got only a taste of what life is like for someone who has challenges getting around, including how to maneuver from the button to the door on city hall and the post office, to uneven sidewalks, and barriers when shopping.

“What I experienced was nothing compared to what some people face on a daily basis,” Martin said.  “I always knew accessibility was important, but seeing it first hand was really eye-opening.”

Martin knew that the City had a Disability Advisory Committee in the past, but they stopped meeting about ten years ago, having “took it as far as they could at the time,” he said. But with new technologies, new staff, and more interest in business and development in the city than a decade ago, it seemed like a great time for a revival.

On Nov. 25 Ferndale City Council unanimously approved reviving the group and re-naming it the Ferndale Accessibility and Inclusion Advisory Commission.  They also appointed Alan Hejl, Nina Kelly, and Monica Mills to serve, and the group had their first official meeting Monday night to discuss the basics of the Commission’s comeback.

Hejl was named Chair, and Kelly the Secretary. In January Ferndale City Council will appoint a liaison as well as a staff person to attend.  Others have already filled out applications and there is room for a few more members.

Monica Mills has been working in the nonprofit profession for 17 years and is active in organizing many local events, including Ferndale Pride. Her experiences have helped her form relationships with all city departments and an understanding of how they work.  “My efforts as a volunteer coordinator for events…have pointed out that more people would become involved in Ferndale if they could join the crowds and meetings,” Mills wrote in her application.  She also served on the previous committee.

Nina Kelly is a former planning commissioner who works as Chief of Planning and Development for the Huron-Clinton Metroparks, a job that has enabled her to work on improving accessibility. In 2018 she completed a certificate through Indiana University’s Eppley Institute on “Foundations for Accessibility” where she ‘became much more familiar with the nuances of the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as Universal Design Principles.

Alan Hejl wrote in his application “My wife is a person with paraplegia who uses a wheelchair and in the past several months I’ve identified accessibility challenges with several aspects of the Ferndale community including sidewalks, business entrances that don’t meet the ADA or MI building code standard, and even planning clearance routes. I’d love to help ensure that Ferndale is an inclusive city and one of choice for anyone with a disability.”  Hejl is a member of Ford Motor Company’s Ford Empowering Diverse Abilities employee resource group which helps provide awareness and insight to campus transformation and vehicle design efforts. He also has experience consulting with businesses in Ferndale, Hamtramck, and Detroit to improve accessibility.

The group learned about accomplishments of the past, and brainstormed ways they could have an impact on making the city more welcoming to everyone.

PAST SUCCESSES

Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, the big topic of discussion was how to make city buildings more accessible.  At the time, even curbs were not cut to allow for wheelchair, bike, or stroller access.

The courthouse was a major problem, and the group worked with Judge Longo to create short term solutions as well as plans for remodeling that would truly serve the community. The group pushed for automatic doors for City Hall, which was installed in 2004.

The group gave awards to businesses that made improvements to be ADA compliant, and gave education packets to those who were not.

And in 2008 they invited members of city council to spend an afternoon in a wheelchair to see for themselves how hard it was to get around.

MOVING FORWARD

Today there are still challenges with businesses that are not accessible, and the FAIAC is going to explore ways to encourage improvements, both with effective communications campaigns and by identifying grant opportunities for businesses to make upgrades.

And because they have planning backgrounds, members hope to find the best ways to monitor development in the city and make sure accessibility is a bigger part of the planning process.  “It could be as simple as adding a form to the packet builders get,” Hejl said.  Their next step is to discuss this with their assigned staff member to learn what the city currently does.

They’ll also be talking with representatives from the Ferndale Police, Fire, and Department of Public Works to learn what they currently to support the needs of people with disabilities, and what ideas they might have for what more could be done. There will be a good deal of education in the next few months, but they do have some ideas for raising public awareness about accessibility issues that residents and businesses may see early in 2020.

GET INVOLVED

Members of the public are welcome to be part of the process.  There are three remaining spots on the commission and the meetings are open to the public. Meetings are the first Monday of each month at 6:30pm at the Kulick Community Center, 1201 Livernois.  Those interested can find the application here.

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