COLUMBIA — More than three months ago, Sean Spence of the Como Disabilities Advocacy Network began to bring Columbia's disabilities community together to identify key issues to prioritize.
"One thing we learned is while we do have programs that do great things for people with disabilities, there is no overarching plan for the disabilities community," Spence said.
After months of discussion, a group of 20 disabilities advocates met Wednesday evening at the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri to decide on five objectives to work on this year.
Attendees were given a list of 16 potential objectives including issues related to jobs, housing and city government. Before the meeting, Spence asked the group and other community members to weigh in on the objectives in an online questionnaire. Spence received 157 replies, which he brought before the group.
The top five ranked objectives include:
- Create and maintain a list of sidewalk projects important to the disabilities community and persuade city to fix the top three.
- Work with the city to provide online resources to communicate services and activities for the disabilities community.
- Submit and pass a proposal for the City Council to implement universal design and subsidized housing.
- Persuade the city to set a goal of employing people with disabilities.
- Increase on-street, accessible parking by 10 percent.
Thirteen of the approximately 20 people in attendance voted to accept these top five issues, but some felt other objectives were also important. Spence recognized this, but said it is important to prioritize to accomplish goals.
Gretchen Maune, an MU graduate student who became blind six years ago, liked the idea of a monthly educational lunch and learn event, which did not make the top five list.
She said she was also concerned the questionnaire may not have reached everyone with an interest, especially those without Internet access, because it was only online for three days. However, she said she appreciates the organization giving the disabilities community a "cohesive voice."
"I do think we are going to get some good things done," Maune said. "There's a lot of motivated people here."
Sharon Paulsell, owner of Wheelchair Personalities, has been part of the Como Disabilities Advocacy Network since its beginning. Paulsell believes it's possible objectives beyond the top five can be worked on this year.
"Just because it didn't get in the top five doesn't mean it can't get done in the next 12 months," Paulsell said.
The next step for the group will be to create a steering committee to implement the five objectives, Spence said. The next meeting will be in June.
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