Friday, June 15, 2018

Accessible Scavenger Hunt PART 2

MCIL Accessible Scavenger Hunt at Laurelwood Shopping.

Pool lift
The MCIL accessible scavenger hunt visited the Laurelwood Shopping Center on Poplar this Friday. This time our goal was simplified to: Please find examples of accessibility and community inclusion.

We all met at the Panera Bread just off of Grove Park on the West side of Laurelwood. From there we split into three teams to search the area. The Laurelwood collection of stores does not have a central walking route, but it is a connected parking lots north of Poplar between Perkins Extended and Grove Park.

The first team headed directly north from the Panera Bread and examined the stores along Grove Park. They noted the wide doors that were easy to open at Talbots. They also seemed to have well-kept ramps at more than one location around the store. Inside, Talbots was spacious and had and an accessible dressing room.

The first team also noted the welcoming storefront of Frost Bakery. It had a double door, with no center post that can make maneuvering a wheelchair difficult. The team noted that the bakery smell was also very inviting.

The second team headed east. They were most impressed by Ulta Beauty. The store had an accessible counter that was not too high and made the team feel at ease. They had an accessible bathroom and Braille signs.

At LA Fitness the second team was astonished to find many accessible features. They had a unisex restroom and accessible equipment. The staff was welcoming and friendly and showed the team the accessible pool lift and accessible shower.

What the third team found most welcoming was the personal attitude at Hot Yoga. The individual in the store personally welcomed the team and introduced them to the owner. They expressed their belief that Yoga did not leave anyone out and invited the team for a free hot class.

Team three also noted the welcoming and accessible ramps. Many were wide and provided access for the general foot traffic as well as being welcoming to a person with a mobility impairment. The route from the bus stop was clear and accessible. Most notably was the raised concrete accessible routes from the accessible parking spaces. It was clear that the parking at Nordstroms made people with disabilities feel that they were to be included at the store.

Many of the participants noted that it was a lot easier to look for what is wrong. Even as we all looked for examples of accessibility, it was often easy to see what did not meet our expectations. We did not record barriers we found as an exercise in trying to find what works and what we all find welcoming and inclusive. Everyone also made mental notes however, of what places did not seem to have access and the spots that did not seem to be inclusive.

Accessible restroom

Thursday, May 31, 2018

MATA CEO meets with MCIL

Gary Rosenfeld discusses public transportation issues with advocates

MATA operator on a bus

Gary Rosenfeld, the CEO of MATA visited MCIL to reinforce the partnership MATA has with MCIL. He took the opportunity to update MCIL on our request to give free fare to MATAplus riders who ride the fixed-route.

“Free fare is a great idea,” said Mr. Rosenfeld, pausing, the crowd expecting him to follow the phrase with a ‘but’. “I’m pausing for dramatic effect, because it is a great idea. Everyone likes it. The MATA commissioners and the City Council.”

Mr. Rosenfeld pointed out that he is expecting a ruling from the FTA. He said the FTA approval was essential before he can roll-out the free fare program and he estimated that they would write a simple policy once they got the go-ahead from lawyers. MATA believes that it was still at least a couple of weeks before the free fare policy would be active.

Rosenfeld also argued that MATA would be ready to meet the needs of people who applied for MATAplus in an effort to get the free fares. He said that MATA staff was ready to handle the influx of new applications and that he believed that if people were eligible for paratransit service they should be able to apply and receive the free fares.

In October of last year, MCIL had written Gary Rosenfeld a letter proposing the idea of free fares for certified paratransit riders to ride the fixed-route. We had made the proposal as a way for MATA to develop “conditional eligibility” as a way to improve MATAplus. Mr. Rosenfeld did not add a move toward conditional eligibility with the free fare program.

Allison Donald asked Mr. Rosenfeld about the illegal capacity constraints that riders see on MATAplus. She pointed out some areas of minimal compliance with the ADA and that MATAplus is unable to meet like denying trips and not answering the phone. These areas where MATAplus seems to have limited capacity make paratransit service unequal to the service on the fixed-route.

The MATA CEO began his response to the capacity constraints by directing some of the blame to riders. He seemed to think that the 25% rate of cancellations contributed to MATA’s inability to effectively serve the community although the people were using the MATAplus cancellation policy.

Mr. Rosenfeld went on to list some of the changes he has overseen to boost the capacity of the paratransit system. MATAplus should have 8 new operators starting soon to go with the new reservation specialists he announced at the MATA Board of Commissioners meeting. He also said that paratransit serves less than 3% of the overall MATA ridership, but takes up about 17% of the budget.

An MCIL volunteer asked about stop announcements made on MATA fixed-route buses. He had sent a letter to MATA two years ago detailing the requirements of the auditory announcement system. He finished his question by adding that it was frustrating that it is a legal requirement and nothing has been done.

Every MATA bus appears to fail to meet the basic federal requirements for making stop announcements. These stop announcements are critical to help people move from paratransit to the fixed route. MCIL made it clear that having compliant stop announcements was very important to the disability community. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

MCIL Accessibility Scavenger Hunt

Accessibility at Crosstown Concourse

Consumers by large menu
Mem Pops uses a large menu
By Christina Clift
The Crosstown Concourse is roughly 1.5 million square feet of both commercial and residential space located at 495 N. Watkins.  It is indeed a vertical urban village in which residents can live, work and play without ever having to leave the building.  It contains a gym, pharmacy, nail shop, doctor offices, a variety of restaurants, bank, school, for profit and not for profit organizations, and much more.  

A cane detection area
A cane detection area so white
cane users will not hit their
head on the stairs
A beautifully remodeled building that Memphians should be proud of.  Crosstown Concourse an example of what can go right when redeveloping an old building.  However no building is perfect and the Crosstown Concourse is no exception.  I discovered this over the last two weeks as I visited the building.
Auto door at Crosstown
Automatic door at Crosstown

First, the Crosstown Concourse is accessible due to its location along a major bus route.  If you use public transportation to get around, you can use the number 42 or 53.  After getting off the bus and walking a short distance over sidewalks that are in really good condition, you will reach the main entrance to the building. 

Painted floor guidence
painted floor guidance
For those who drive their own cars parking will require lots of circling around the parking lot, figuring out which entrance is the closest once you secure a spot, and when you’re ready to leave how to get back to your car.  There are also drop-off zones for individuals using Lyft, Uber, MATAplus and family and friends.  Finally, if you are into biking you can use the Bikeshare to get to around as well. 

Sign with no text alternative
Sign with no text alternative,
some Braille may help.
There are a few things that can make traveling to and from the Crosstown building a bit easier.  First, installing truncated domes within the parking area at curb ramps, drive ways, and crosswalks.  Also, bright yellow paint would give a visual warning that you are approaching and incline or steps. 

A crosswalk should be created at each bus stop to ensure the quickest route possible to the building, otherwise bus riders in some cases will have to walk an extra block to get to the main entrance.  One great feature at Crosstown Concourse is the audible traffic signals that make crossing the street easier for people with visual disabilities. 

Text directions at Crosstown
Text directions at Crosstown,
much of the Navigation is visual
Next, the Crosstown Concourse is also accessible to individuals that use mobility devices such as wheelchairs and walkers.  Each entrance has power assisted doors, but move quick because they close fairly fast. 

There are elevators located in the West, East, and Central Atriums that will carry you up to the higher levels of the buildings.  There are also ramps to navigate slight level changes. 

Individuals who’ve visited the gym are also pleased with the accessible locker rooms.  However, the doors seem a bit heavy, so you might need to give them a good push. 

Painted directions on the floor
Painted directions on the floor
There are plenty of signs on the wall and floor letting you know where to go, but that doesn’t help a person who is blind.  While a sighted person will be a bit overwhelmed on their first visit, at least they can follow the signs.

Perhaps a few braille signs letting you know which door you’re entering and an accessible directory of businesses that will help people find their way.  A little bit of textured paint or tape on the floor would also help people who are blind to find their way to the elevators or bathroom. 

Finally, not all of these ideas may be required under the ADA, but would make visiting the Crosstown Concourse a bit more accessible.  The open concept design of the building makes it accessible to some, but extremely difficult to navigate for others.  Somewhere there should be a balance between the two. 

MCIL will notify the Crosstown Concourse about our concerns and request the suggested accessibility upgrades mentioned in this blog.  So, I invite everyone to visit the building and see what’s going on in an area being revitalized in our city, so that way when other areas are developed it can be even better.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Clift Notes: The State Rehabilitation Council

A funny thing happened on my way to convention…

By Christina Clift
Christina Clift
I checked my e-mail and discovered that I’d been appointed by Governor Haslem to serve on the State Rehabilitation Council of Tennessee.   

Why was this funny? First of all I’d forgotten about submitting the application.  Second, I thought that I hadn’t been selected since I submitted my application at the end of August 2017 and it was April 3, 2018 when I received notification that I had been approved.  

 Honestly, no one could have been more surprised than me when I read the message. Finally, I was 95 percent sure that I would be elected to serve as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee that weekend and I knew that it would increase my responsibilities.  I did get elected and now my calendar is definitely full.  Never a moment of boredom.   

So you might be asking yourself what is the State Rehabilitation Council of Tennessee and why does it matter to me?  

The mission of the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) of Tennessee is to advise, evaluate and partner with the public rehabilitation program in support of improving access to employment and promoting a diverse workforce statewide.  In other words, the SRC acts as the voice of the consumer and other stakeholders in the VR program. 

Like Centers for Independent Living, the SRC must have at least 51 percent participation from former or existing Vocational Rehabilitation clients which are people with disabilities.  Working for MCIL I know about the struggles individuals have gone through to receive training, to receive needed equipment, and to get and maintain employment.  I also learned that first-hand as a client of Vocational Rehabilitation myself.  

I knew that I wouldn’t have any problem being on the side of the consumer.  However, I knew that I had to keep an open-mind because issues aren’t always black and white and you have to be able to see both sides.

The meeting kicked off fairly smoothly with representatives from Vocational Rehabilitation giving an update on the four metrics currently being used to assist The Department of Rehabilitation Services.  They are referred to as customer focused goals. And they include: Vocational training services, providing job readiness, post-secondary education, and successful closures.  

These four areas enable the SRC and Vocational Rehabilitation the ability to track performance.  For example, the number of successful case closures for 2017-2018 is 2000 and currently they have closed 1776.  The metrics can then be examined to see the barriers to Vocational Rehabilitation clients or staff being able to close cases. They also reported on the impact that programs such as pre-employment transition services, Employment and Community First, and The Tennessee Promise are having on new applications.

Other areas of discussion were fairly straight forward.  They included member recruitment, creating outreach materials such as brochures, websites, and social media.  We also discussed ways to increase responses to customer satisfaction surveys for Vocational Rehabilitation.  Suggestions included: using events like the Mega Conference, NFB of Tennessee conventions, and more to set up tables.  Use of technology like survey monkey, texting links, and having organizations like CIL’s to assist as well. 

Overall, I think serving on the SRC will be a positive experience.  It will enable me to speak up on policies that act as barriers to service.  I will enable me to network with other agencies who have members on the SRC including STEP, the Department of Education, DRT, representatives from the business community, and other advocates speaking on behalf of disability populations.  These meetings are open to the public and I would strongly encourage anyone to attend.  After all, “nothing about us, without us.”  

 The next meeting is scheduled for August 9, 2018 in Nashville at the Airport Hilton located at 2200 Elm Hill Pike.