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Athens City Commission on Disabilities sets plans, events for 2022

The Athens City Commission on Disabilities is an organization dedicated to providing necessary accommodations and advocacy for individuals with disabilities. 

The commission, consisting of members appointed by the mayor, focuses its work on ensuring that the City of Athens continues to create structures that are accessible for people with disabilities, and in turn, creating a more inclusive city.

Carolyn Lewis, treasurer of the commission, said the commission’s operations have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which only further emphasized the need for proper accommodations for people with disabilities, as many are immunocompromised. 

“People with disabilities are usually more susceptible to whatever's going on, so we have to really watch our immune systems,” Lewis said. “I live with a disability and use a wheelchair, my immune system is very weak, so to go around a lot of people in meetings, I'm very cautious. We've had to petition to make sure even though when the governor said everyone could go back to meeting in person, we got an exemption because a lot of our folks are afraid to come out because we don't want to be get COVID because of being around a lot of people.” 

Within the commission, there are a series of working committees. Lewis said the accessibility committee and the advocacy committee have now joined forces for several of the events and plans for 2022. 

Usually every month, the commission does a “Walk and Roll” event which, Lewis said, helps to continuously check and ensure that updates are being made to the city that reflect the needs of various individuals in the community who have disabilities – ranging from installing ramps to including braille menus.

“We meet with city officials or within the commission to look at streets, curb cuts, building interfaces, and work with businesses as well, to see what's working and what's not for people who have different disabilities,” Lewis said. “Just to make sure each month that the city is doing what it's supposed to do to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Dianne Bouvier, the mayor’s designee of the commission and co-chair of the accessibility committee, said the goal of events like the Walk and Rolls is to initiate a collaboration with the city, as the city is the one responsible for enforcing the changes the commission suggests. 

“We have a certain kind of expertise that will help (the city) make good decisions,” Bouvier said. “During (each) project, you learn something else, so it's building a knowledge base for the people that work with the city. We're kind of the voice to help. I think the thing that's really nice is that the city is really committed to making the city accessible. We just can help give them ideas of how to do that.”

In addition to the continuation of prior projects such as Walk and Roll, Bouvier said her committee wants to cover new ground with accessibility in technological settings.

“(Technology is) another area – if people use a screen reader or if they use some kind of text to text to voice stuff – where you need to set things up and websites in a way to make them accessible to those devices (and) applications,” Bouvier said. “Some of what we're hoping to do is also give general ideas of what businesses could do to help make their own online presence more accessible.”

David McNelly, chairperson for the commission, said he is hopeful that this coming year will include more communication and signage around the city for accommodations, such as an accessible entrance. Additionally, McNelly said an important aspect of each accommodation present in the city is that businesses learn to reach out to customers who may be in need. 

“(I’m hoping for) people to be more aware in terms of training staff to know how to ask people if they need something, if they need an accommodation,” McNelly said. 

For the year of 2022, Lewis is hopeful that the work done by the commission will improve the overall inclusivity and accessibility in Athens, to make current residents feel more visible and accommodated. 

“(I hope that) we can continue to meet, to focus and make sure that we're envisioning the best possible methods of accessibility,” Lewis said. “(We can) make it a more livable city for those who are here with disabilities, and a more welcoming city for those who want to come.”


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