Kaufman emphasizes blatant issues of mobility and lack of acceptance for the disabled in the Metro Detroit community.
In Metro Detroit live individuals with dementia, physical disabilities or cognitive-challenging issues that limit one or more major life activities. These issues become a barrier to their ability to interact in the community.
A person with a mild level of Down Syndrome was in a local restaurant waiting to be seated. People who arrived after she did were immediately seated while she still waited. She eventually became frustrated and just left.
A person with cerebral palsy wheeled into a store with her caregiver, looking for a blouse. They waited 45 minutes for assistance. The caregiver said store personnel ignored them; no purchase was made.
The stigma associated with disabilities need to be addressed. Individuals with disabilities want to be accepted and be able to receive respect, dignity and purpose in their surroundings. They want to live in a “disabled-friendly community,” defined as a place or culture in which people with disabilities are empowered, supported and included in society; a community where people walk toward individuals with disabilities, not away from them.
To make a community friendly is not an overnight accomplishment. It requires the involvement of the business sector, local government and those experiencing disabilities.
The business sector and local governments need to increase awareness. They will need to train personnel on how to approach and service these individuals.
Organizations are available to assist in these efforts. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services offers assessment and improvement planning processes that helps makes communities more “friendly” through its Community for a Lifetime Program.
Government and business are key in determining the needs of disabled persons. But, individuals with difficulties know what they need, and their input would be an asset in the development of a friendly environment.
Cities like Denver, Seattle and Jackson, Mich., and others worldwide have developed and instituted friendly programs. These cities concluded that people with disabilities want to be accepted and treated as “people.” They want it now.
Barry Kaufman lives in West Bloomfield and is retired from Blue Cross Blue Shield. He is a Lewy-Body Dementia patient and spokesman and has participated in LBD research with National Institutes of Health and the University of Michigan.