In the early 1980s, my husband took me to my first Detroit Red Wings hockey game at Joe Louis Arena.
Two men sitting near us began arguing with one another. Quickly, the quarreling escalated into a fist fight. As one of the brawlers ducked, I took a hard punch to the side of the head. Sitting at the top of an extensive flight of concrete stairs, I fell forward in my wheelchair and saw stars.
Chaos ensued; the crowd yelling for vengeance, my husband searching for assistance from the arena staff and Detroit police. The next day, still stunned but not seriously injured, a friend suggested I call Michigan Protection and Advocacy Services, Inc. Over the next few years, I worked with MPAS and Joe Louis Arena to make the accessible seating safer, trained the staff to better assist patrons with disabilities, revamped the restrooms and improved the ticket system. Our goal was for everyone using this community facility to have a better experience.
Locally, I’ve been involved with everything from relocating voting precincts to creating more equitable ticket pricing and expanded accessible seating at Kresge Auditorium.
For years, readers have suggested to me that Traverse City should undergo a universal access audit. As maintained by universaldesign.com, “universal, inclusive or design for all” addresses barriers faced by people with disabilities, older people, children and other populations often overlooked in the design process.
Universal design reduces stigma and provides benefits for all users. For example, building entrances without stairs equally helps someone moving furniture, pushing a baby stroller or using a wheelchair.
As per wheelchairtravel.org, the top five wheelchair accessible US cities are Seattle, Boston, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and Chicago. Cities were scored on accessible public transportation, taxis with ramps, “rollability” of sidewalks and access to top attractions, sights and ADA-compliant hotels.
Universal access audits evaluate medical and health facilities, educational institutions, businesses, housing, parks and recreation, government and arts and culture.
When I’m investigating a new city, I contact their visitor’s bureau or Chamber of Commerce for their access audit. If there isn’t one, I gather information from the local disability and senior organizations and consult crisis center data banks, universities and hospitals.
I research blogs, books and newspapers.
If I encounter an access problem, I first try to work it out with the establishment. I document my concern with notes and cellphone photos. Sometimes I’ve found it necessary to contact the local code enforcement official, fire or police department or file a complaint at the state or federal level.
Traverse City has won many awards, like “2016 Best Small Town in America” by Livability.com, “Top 25 Places to retire in 2016” by Forbes Magazine and “2016 Greatest Midwest Town” by Midwest Living Magazine.
What would it take to become the “2016 Best Small Town for Universal Design?”
Susan Odgers, a resident of Traverse City for the past 29 years, has used a wheelchair for 40 years. She is a faculty member of Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. She can be reached by contacting the Record-Eagle.