From the CEO: Winter with a Disability

It is wonderful to see how vital downtown Fort Wayne has become. New retail, restaurants, murals, ice skating and other destination venues are drawing more and more into the downtown streets. Gone are the days when a drive through downtown was one of isolation. Winter is here and the challenge is to continue to draw the same crowds. We want everyone to feel as if downtown offers them a draw…but is that true?

We want everyone to enjoy the activities that their town has to offer…including the activities in the winter. Through inclusive social, recreational and arts programs, AWS Foundation and the organizations they fund seek to engage and inspire individuals with enduring disabilities all over Northeast Indiana. Through our grants we strive to provide the opportunities for volunteerism, access to the theater, music, recreation and all the great things that make our community our home. We recognize the isolation and loneliness that is too often a routine part of the life for the person with a disability.

18 blue post accessible parking meters are scattered around the downtown Fort Wayne area.  These are meters that are restricted to only those with handicapped placards or license plates to ensure convenient on street parking. However, in the months of snow the distance between the car and the sidewalk might be blocked by a virtual Mt. Everest of snow. For the person with a disability, even local travel requires additional planning and time allowance but, in the winter, a trip downtown can be insurmountable and filled with risks. The 20% of the population with disabilities may just choose not to come downtown, and being already at risk for a sense of isolation, become even lonelier.

Arts United has agreed to pilot an “adopt a meter program”. The Blue Post meter on Barr and Main is the closest meter to Art Link, Pembroke Bakery and the FW Ballet. Arts United has agreed to ensure that the space will be clear of snow so that the ramp from a wheelchair accessible van can be deployed; so that the individual with ambulation challenges doesn’t need to climb over a mound of snow or walk along the road to gain sidewalk access at a cleared intersection. They will assess for ice in and around the meter. They will be sending a clear message to ALL of the residents of the area that they are welcomed.

The Fort Wayne City and Allen County Disability Council will be working with the city to evaluate the program for possible future replication. We will be promoting the program as it hopefully expands. But it shouldn’t stop with Fort Wayne.

We all want a life that is shared. We all want a life with a social connection and less loneliness. We all want a life with a variety of experiences and trips downtown should be a part of that. Will you help with fighting the illness of loneliness that too often is a part of the winter for the person with a disability? We are encouraging businesses in all of Northeast Indiana to consider how they can be more welcoming during these winter months. If you are interested, please contact me (phays@awsfoundation.org).