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A Conversation with Mallory Tarr and Katie Shelley

By: Beth Collins

Two young women sitting side by side.

The following text is a transcription of this podcast. 

Welcome to disability dialogue where we're having conversations about what it will take for the greater Toledo community to become known as the most disability friendly community in the country. I'm Beth Collins Community facilitator. And today we are having a conversation with Mallory tar community relations specialist with The Ability Center and Katie Shelly disability rights advocate.

[00:00:05] Welcome guys, thank you. Thanks for having us. This is going to be fun. In addition to being colleagues at the Ability Center. You guys also became friends. Yes. Yeah. Well Mallory and I were in another conversation Katie and we were talking about the accessibility of the Toledo community and whether we are accessible and one of the things she brought up was the challenge when you have friends that are affected by disability whether it's wheelchair otherwise and the challenge of being social with your friends.

[00:00:43] You're young you want to go out to dinner or whatever and so there can be some challenges. Do you guys want to talk about that Mallory? Mmm, so. Just a natural conversation with us wanting to spend more time together hang out outside of work. I asked her to go to dinner get a drink whatever it was and I just naturally asked her and then had to step back and think wait a minute is that place that we just decided on accessible?

Is it somewhere that she's able to get into? With her wheelchair, is she able to go to the restroom.  Is she able to sit comfortably in a seat and that was my second thought which should be everyone's first thought to consider accessibility. And so I definitely learned a lesson when we first talked about going to dinner and that shouldn't even necessarily be a question in the future ever.

Establishments should be accessible to all people. So it was kind of a turning point for me in my thoughts on disability because I had never experienced that before, you know with other friends that I have. We just decide hey, let's go to dinner and lets you go here at this time and there's no second thought on it.

So it's definitely been something that I've learned as a person without a disability that I need to be more conscious of that and I need to be able to go somewhere with my friend and make sure she's able to get into the facility just like I can.

So did you do anything when you were having those thoughts? Did you make calls to make sure or did you rely on Katie tonight? I did I relied on Katie but at first I just said hey, there's a restaurant that's near both of our places. What about that place? And like I said, it was kind of my second thought to think is this accessible so it's definitely a different thought and mindset but I definitely had to rely on you to know that right? Well, even in relying on me to know them, if you would have said a place that I knew wasn't accessible I would have come out and told you right you know, it's something that I'm always kind of conscious of especially prior like now a lot of places especially new construction have to be accessible. They have to follow the 2010 design standards, but there are a lot of older buildings that were built prior to the ADA that some have made, you know efforts to be more accessible some have not and so there are naturally some places that are more accessible than others.

Well, how about you personally you mentioned you have a service dog? Yes. You're using a wheelchair. How about you personally then? What do you do if it's a place that you haven't been to before do you have to check it out? So I do use a wheelchair. I also can walk with my Walker but for the most part if I'm going out I do use my wheelchair.

You know, my service dog is definitely a new consideration at something that I'm still getting used to but she is supposed to be allowed everywhere that I'm allowed. So it's more just. Making sure I find a place where she can lie under the table comfortably and she's good and she can just chill out.

But for me, I guess I've been more fortunate as of late, especially with a lot of newer restaurants in the Toledo area but I don't necessarily take it for granted that it'll be accessible right but you'd like to.  I'd like to take it for granted. Sometimes it comes back to bite me in the butt.

But for the most part, you know, most new construction is much better than how things used to be. Like in the 90s when I used to go out to a restaurant it was just right after they had passed and so there was no guarantee that the place would be accessible that I would be able to use the facilities.

It's a whole other conversation if you can get in the door, and there's curb Cuts, can you sit comfortably in your seat, or can I use the restroom, and is there space for my wheelchair? Yeah, there's more to it than just getting in the door, right?

So to answer your question, I mean I still do sometimes check out restaurants, especially if it's like in a downtown area. And it's a restaurant or even just a business a shop or whatever that's in a building that was built prior to 1990, which is a lot of downtown's.

So it's just definitely kind of being more conscious and most places you can call in advance asking they're more than willing or happy to tell you, you know, yes, we have a portable ramp or whatever. Right? And we do have access but just the thought of having to do that and not being able to just walk in.

You know, it can get kind of frustrating sometimes but well this disability dialogue campaign is really to explore what it would take to be disability-friendly. So what do you think like for instance restaurants? Just not to keep picking on them. But yes, sorry. What would make it easier?I mean rather than having to make those calls?

Well, you know especially if they're in downtown areas, I understand that a lot of small businesses are in downtown areas, and they might not have as much funding as bigger chains but the ADA does say they have to make readily achievable changes with what funds  they do have to make their facility accessible.

So I would like to see all facilities restaurants shops, whatever be accessible. Eventually, I mean it's been nearly 30 years since the ADA was passed and unfortunately, there's still not a whole lot of enforcement of guidelines. So there are quite a few more places that are accessible than they used to be but there's still quite a few places that aren't as accessible as they should be. Yeah, and so. In theory to make it a more accessible Community physical accessibility is definitely something that needs to be taken into consideration.

It must be really interesting for you as a disability rights Advocate to then have the issues yourself, right? So tell us a little bit more about what a disability rights Advocate does. So for me personally in my position at the Ability Center. I work with the ability centers advocacy program and I focus mostly on health care and on public access.

So for example, I meet with state legislators in Columbus. I'm currently advocating for more funding in the state budget for things like personal care attendant wages things like that. But then I also helped with the public access side of things as well. You know, if someone comes up with the complaint that a place is not accessible we can look into it.

We investigate it. We work with the business to try to make it accessible because we don't want anybody to get sued for not being accessible. We want to help people, you know do what they can so that everybody can enjoy their business. We're not out to get any money. But you know, we've been saying during the campaign a big part of becoming disability friendly as a community is that people have to actually care right?

And how do you inspire people to care? I think that it's more than just the physical barriers of getting into a restaurant because if people don't know someone with a disability, if you do not have a disability or self you may be immune to it. You have the luxury of getting in your car and driving to the restaurant that you want and walking into the restaurant and sitting down and being served.

But if you have a friend with a disability if you have a family member with a disability if you're taking your older Mom out to dinner you have to think can my mom get into the restroom at this facility or when you and your girlfriends go out can they get in the door that you can get into?

It's not only the physical barrier to the accessibility issues, but it's also the social stigma as well. I think that's a huge component and I think a lot of what we're trying to focus on to is that. Really disability can happen to anyone at any time.

You know, like Mallory,  she didn't have a friend with a disability before I came along but now, I'm in her life and she kind of had to adjust what she knew about disability and kind take a step back and realize there's more to disability than you might have originally anticipated which is certainly not a bad thing at all.

Because I think it definitely kind of widens your world view as to okay because it's not just about disability.  You know most things to make a place more physically accessible is good for more than just people disabilities and moms with strollers exactly. You know, it's it just makes sense for the most part.

It's one thing to be accessible to persons with physical disabilities right but it doesn't have to end there. It's not just about the disability. It's about making accessible to as many people as possible and it's good for business, right? I mean you want to welcome every person in a community, I mean if you promote yourself as an organization or business or restaurant that's inclusive and accessible to people I don't think that people realize how impactful that could be in the community.

I mean, we need to flip the conversation to make that such a positive thing that people should be getting more business because they are an organization that is disability friendly and they are a fully accessible restaurant or business. So it's just a whole mindset that I think disability dialogue is really starting to make happen in the community.

So we just need to keep going so you like the idea then of businesses promoting themselves. Absolutely. Yeah as fully accessible like to actually build that into the language that they use in their promotion. People with disabilities spend money. You know get me out to your business have me spend my money because online shopping has made it so easy to just buy something online and I don't even have to worry about going out.

But if I knew that your store was accessible and that I can easily get what I need I'm more than happy to support your store is a brick-and-mortar physical location. But you know, especially local business, you definitely want to be able to support local but if there's a whole chunk of the community that can't get in your door you're missing a huge, market. Well, I love what Katie said.

I mean there's still a lot of social stigma surrounding disability. I mean, I think a lot of people still are of the mindset that people with disabilities don't necessarily work, which is not true. I mean, obviously I work.,

Strange, but prior to the disability rights movement and prior to the ADA which was in 1990 a lot of people with disabilities didn't go out and weren't able to go out like you know, and I'm using air quotes here able-bodied peers.  You know, and so I think people were just kind of the assumption that disabled people didn't have lives outside of the home. There were people that lived in institutions and their parents were encouraged to institutionalize their kids because they have a disability, you know, luckily things are changing now,

Those ideas are still there, right that like people with disabilities don't go out. They don't, you know, hang out with friends. They don't go to parties. But they do right? I think you have a great point. I think another way to look at it is if I got in a car accident tomorrow and I acquired a disability and still want to go to the same restaurant that I did last week. I still want to go to the grocery store and be able to park in a spot where I could get in and out of easily.

Your life does not change if you acquire a disability, right? I mean people acquire disabilities when they're born and people acquire disabilities throughout their lives a lot of people acquire disabilities when they're older and they don't even have the access to the do the things that they want to do, but it's just because you have a disability doesn't mean that.

So you guys we talked a lot about going out to eat and you guys are friends. Yes. We are not just Professionals in the disability field. Do you guys do anything together other than go out to eat? Well, we went to Zumba class together last week for the first time. Well, it was not my first time but it was our first time going together. So yeah, The Ability Center is doing a wellness challenge with the YMCA so Mallory and I decided we should go to Zumba class together.

I mean I had fun. I don't know about her, but it was interesting. It's fun, but that's just kind of. Part of being friends, you know you go on you do social things and you want to be able to work out with your friends. And so knowing that we're able to go and do that together, right? I mean make fools of ourselves together with being a wheelchair user.

There are some Zumba moves that I'm not physically able to accomplish, but I just do what I can and I think it's fun dancing. So. Well, yeah in my gym, you know, I'm not considered an athlete and so there are modifications. And so we're always calling for a modification. If you can't do the thing that is being prescribed.

So I love that you guys go to Zumba. What else do you do? We haven't done anything specifically together, but at the Ability Center as a whole we have like a wellness program. So I think that's important too that Wellness is such a big part of everyone's life if you have a disability or not.

It's getting out and being active. Whatever that means for you. You just need to figure out what works. There are people that have disabilities that can do certain things. There's people without disabilities that can't do certain moves. So it's kind of all about finding adaptations and doing what you can do and having fun with it. We definitely found that in Zumba.

How cool I feel inspired about that? Yeah, like I'd love to imagine the community gyms take the disability friendly Challenge and think about it. So what do you think? We can do to do some stigma busting. I mean, I don't feel like it's on people that are affected by disability to do it.

What can those of us who may not have it in our lives currently. How do we shift the way we see the way we think a lot of it is people not understanding that that thought of. Places you want to go not being accessible is a thought you need to think about because as we said when we chatted about going to dinner my first thought was not can she get in the establishment?

Because I've never had to consider that before so I think that just honestly understanding taking a second to look around when you're at dinner on Friday night and you're with your family and to sit around and think if one of you know my family members. Acquired a disability tomorrow. Could they walk in the store?

I think just taking a second to think about that. You might feel a little differently and by noticing that feeling and think wow, I can't imagine somebody having to go through that and not feeling like they're supported. And some place where I can just go without thinking twice about it. I think that changing that it's going to really spark the conversation.

So people that don't have a disability or that don't even know someone with a disability can stop him thinking wow is the Toledo area really is accessible as we think? Or are  we missing the boat on so many more people that could be integrated in our community. So it's kind of just taking a second to stop and actually think yeah.

I mean we're not expecting perceptions to change overnight obviously, but if you can at least just be aware of it in the back of your mind, become more conscious of it, and encourage others. and it doesn't have to be someone with a disability. I think that's really the thing that we want people to take away from this podcast because myself I do not have a disability, but I have a friend that has a disability. I work an organization were 51 percent of our staff and board members have disabilities.

So coming from a perception that I didn't know a lot of people with disabilities before and I started to go to different places in the community and you have to think like wow, could my friend get in this building? Right? The fact that that question is now happening in my mind.

I want those questions to be raised with other people, right? And I just want to take a moment to say we're talking about physical accessibility and I'm using my personal experiences as a person with the wheelchair but there are different kinds of accessibility too. There are people who have Vision impairment and you know, hearing disabilities things like that and so accessibility can be different depending on the type of disability so we might be focusing mostly on physical accessibility but all different types of accessibility should be taken into consideration as well. Okay, there's some other examples Okay, so.  Something that is just comes to my mind off the top of my head. The Toledo Museum of Art for example has a program where they actually allow people with vision impairments to literally touch their artwork so that they can feel it. They might not be able to see it with their eyes, but they can still have access to that artwork and still enjoy it appreciate it, right, but, you know people with Sensory disabilities people with Autism, you know, if you're in a store and you've got a lot of stimuli going on like loud music Bright Lights things like that that can be really inaccessible for someone who has problems with, you know, their sensory perception.

So just kind of taking those things into consideration as well. Maybe you could dim the lights and turn the music down. Just things like that. I love what you were saying earlier Mallory about all of us whether we have a disability or not taking this to heart and starting to take note of what's going on in your surroundings and then use your voice to inquire to ask for some changes if they're needed or perhaps to reach out to the ability Center for help with how to make the changes right?

Well, what do you guys think? Do you think that we can become the most disability friendly community in the country? I mean, is it a goal that's too big or can we do? I think we can do this. I mean why not dream big and start here because if we can set an example and move forward and the other communities in the country can do the same thing and maybe this can happen Countrywide and hopefully, you know sooner rather than later, but what I love about it, and I've said it over and over is that these barriers are not really unique to the disability Community. You know any barrier that we talked about applies everyone. So if we fix it right for the disability Community we've essentially fixed it for all of us. Why wouldn't we all get on board with that? Let's just take care of each other.

We're just checking it all off. There's no reason everyone can't get on board exactly. What do you think Mallory? I think that you know, we're small enough as a city that we're close enough where we care about each other, but I think we're big enough to actually make a big change happen. I think we're known as The Glass City and you will do better but how wonderful and crazy and awesome would it be if we were known as a city that actually cared about people disabilities. That's the title Id like to see. I mean not just Toledo like we would like to see the areas surrounding Northwest, Ohio where there's entire Southeast Michigan.

I think the way you're approaching this campaign and this Vision that the Ability Center has can be a model for how to work together for how to bring communities together. Even if they're geographically, you know separated somehow but for everyone to get on board and agree, it's a good idea. We should take better care of each other there are changes that we can make collectively. I think it could actually show people how to change anything. 

Well, thank you so much Katie or Mallory friends and colleagues for coming into this conversation. We really appreciate it. If you would like to find out more about disability dialog you can go to disability dialogue.com.

You can also find this campaign on Facebook just search disability dialogue. And thanks again, Thank you. Thank you.

The 65+

Population in the U.S. is predicted to grow by roughly 90% between 2010 and 2040

Hamilton Lombard, Demographics Researcher UVA

People with disabilities are the largest minority group any person could join at any time