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A Conversation with Sandy Spang

By: Beth Collins

Professional, mature business woman.

The following text is a transcription of this podcast. 

[00:00:00] This is disability dialog and we are with Sandy Spang. Sandy wears a lot of hats and I'm just going to ask Sandy to talk about some of those hats that she wears welcome Sandy. It's good to be here. Thank you. This is an important topic.

Let's talk about some of the roles you're playing in the community. I am an at-large city council member. So we have District members who look after those important issues in their District, but the at-large members I think By Design think about some of the bigger ideas that affect our city and some of the long-term ideas.

And other than that you are also a business owner. I am I'm an entrepreneur. I own [00:01:00] two coffee shops in Toledo. And I also have my main business is rental properties partner with my husband in and so I'm an employer and a business owner and a mother and a mother of three amazing young adults. And yes.

So we're talking about is it possible and what would it look like if Toledo were to be known as a disability friendly community? I want to start by asking you what comes to mind for you when you hear that term disability friendly Community. What does that even look like? First of all, I think it's really important for cities to have these kinds of big goals.

I often talk about Chattanooga which is a city that has a lot of a lot of things to admire about it. They were named the dirtiest midsize City and most polluted mid-sized city in America and they [00:02:00] resolved to be one of the greenest cities. In America, and I think they've achieved that so I think it's important to dream these Big Dreams and you and I've talked about this before for me what comes to mind is the fact that we've already been Pioneers in the disability Arena.

Lucas County was the first county in the United States to offer education and employment services to folks with developmental disabilities. At no cost to their families and a lot of that is the legacy of Josina Lott a name that I knew growing up because I had a brother with a disability and that has shaped my life in many ways.

So, so I think it's important. I think that we've already done it. We've already been Pioneers. That's our Legacy and we should aspire to continue to be Pioneers in this area. knowing [00:03:00] as we do or having it estimated that about one in six people lives with a disability.

I think it means that as an employer.  As an elected official as a mother and a sibling that we're seeing people with disabilities in every aspect of our lives. And so if you serve on a board and you look around the table in a board meeting and you don't see, you know, someone in your organization that has a disability how inclusive are we so, I think that the question.

Yeah, I think the whole issue of Representation is really important. I think that there's so many things so many directions that we can go. What does it look like, a [00:04:00] city. That's truly disability-friendly. I think to me means that you can be one of those 1 in 6 people who lives with a disability and you can live a full life in the community.

You can you can be employed. You can travel you can move about in your community. So, we have work to do we have so much work to do in employment opportunities. In our infrastructure transportation and just even in our thinking the way that we approach the problem. So, this is it huge conversation.

And I'm so excited that the Ability Center has started the dialogue because I think a lot of people may be listening and thinking well, I don't really have much to contribute to this and I think everyone can contribute to this conversation. Right, you may have seen the billboard. It's the one marginalized population that any of us can join [00:05:00] at any time like with aging, the possibilities of us becoming or having some sort of disability.

Is pretty huge for being a caregiver for eventually for someone who has a disability. I think. Yeah, I think that it would be hard to find someone whose family has not been affected in some way by disability, right?

why do you think it matters? I mean that's a big conversation that we've been having during this campaign is why should it matter if I'm not affected? how do we get people to care about it at all? And why should they care about it? Well, obviously the top reason is that we want everyone in our community to live to their full potential and to contribute to this community [00:06:00] to the fullest degree that they can but let's talk about some other reasons why this matters to a community right? First of all, let's look at an economic standpoint. We know that if we are the most disability friendly community in the country people would move here.

Just to experience that right and I think that's really important to point out that kind of distinction can attract people. The city of Toledo at one time had 400,000 residents now 280,000.  Lucas County has lost over 50,000 people in total population.

And so this is something that matters if we can have this distinction. When companies hire people with disabilities. They find that these folks are less [00:07:00] likely to move on that they stay longer in jobs to do tremendous Advantage. They find that the accommodation that they're often fearful of what's it going to cost for an accommodation. The average accommodation is about $400 ,

Making the kinds of accommodation to your property that are needed for someone with a disability. Are often a lot less than people think so for employers right? Now. We know that we have Workforce problems. We know that employers are looking at us because we're logistically were in a fantastic position here, you know, it's often talked about that a 500-mile radius of where we sit right now.

You can reach about sixty percent of the U.S. Population. So obviously we can still make things here. We can still move things from here. But we have a Workforce problem.  Here is a willing Workforce that we're not mining right who many people are being looked over for jobs because of their disability.

So, we need to think about this as a Workforce [00:08:00] Development issue. So, I think that there are so many reasons for this community to embrace this concept, right? Well, I also love the idea of a couple of conversations. I've had where organizations or businesses that were actively looking for people affected by disability for employees and they don't know how to go about finding them specifically.

I mean, that's a different conversation. Do you think these are people that are saying yes, I would be interested in that? How do I go about finding people like that? How do I match up to that? I think that is an important part of this dialogue and I unfortunately, I think there are a lot of people with disabilities who have given up on employment.

Yeah, and you know, we just came out of a tough recession when it was hard to get a job no matter what your qualifications and education were. Um, and so we've got to we've got to bring those people back into the [00:09:00] job search. We've got it we've got to work with employers. So, I think that's an important part of this dialogue is to talk to employers and to look at those ways where employers and potential employees can be put together.

I think that's really important. You know, this touches education this touches Transportation. I think it's safe to say that we are not doing everything that we can do in transportation. And I think that is pretty much an understood idea that we could be doing so much more and so we need to be a community where you can live your life fully without being able to drive an automobile, that has to be a part of this conversation.

How do you do that in an area like the greater Toledo community that is so spread out. I mean, we are a rangy city and a rangy [00:10:00] County, you know, the city of Toledo is about 83 square miles, even when we had that population of 400,000. We were still a fairly spread out. There are cities that put that same population into 20 square miles and obviously public transportation is a lot easier.

So how do we make that happen? What kind of innovative ideas do we need to look at? So that people can get to work that they can have get to social events and they don't need to have an automobile. So, I think this is going to have to be a major part of the conversation because it's not just about going to inclusive events, but how do you get there? I mean, this is just a nuts-and-bolts question. So, we need to hear from people about what that's going to look like. I'd love to be in on that conversation and to me it just leads to what I've been saying over and over. It's an issue for all of us.

I mean, that's why it matters is that transportation is not just a barrier for people that are affected by [00:11:00] disability. It's a challenge for all of us and if we fix it. For people that are affected by disability. Then we have essentially fixed it for everyone have why not? That's absolutely true.

And you know transportation is one of the most fluid topics right now. Obviously so much infrastructure that needs so much repair and that conversation is happening at the local state and National level. We have the millennial generation their saying you know what we're not as interested in automobile ownership and I want to have other options and we are on the eve of autonomous vehicles.

So, there's a lot of things to a lot of moving parts right now and transportation, so. Absolutely, when we have this to dialogue about disability Transportation needs to be at the very core of it and we need to think about some new ideas. We are not going to be able to do what other cities necessarily do because of our own unique geography population.

We're going to have [00:12:00] to think in some creative ways, but I think again, what's the advantage if you are. Perfectly able to drive your automobile. Why do you care? Because this region will not grow until we solve this Transportation question. We're going to continue to get looked over by businesses that could potentially be moving to our community If we don't solve this Transportation question,

It's so interesting because so many of the questions about disability are also questions, we should be asking in general about how do we grow our region? Well, I think that's the beauty of a campaign like this for the Ability Center to say, hey, let's cast a wider net than just imagining what we can do for the disability Community.

Let's bring the whole community in on it because we're all in it. Like this is about all of us it is and we cannot ignore that the. [00:13:00] Contributions of our citizens with disabilities. We will be a richer Community for being an inclusive community for bringing these folks into conversation.

Having grown up in a family with a sibling with a disability was one of the most enriching experiences in my life it Formed me and it gave me a special sensitivity to this issue, He was a Pioneer in so many ways. My brother was born in 1955 with Down syndrome and my parents this was their first child. It was [00:14:00] suggested to them. You know, you need to institutionalize him parents were just starting to reject that at that point. And yeah, they didn't have robust services available to them. So, my brother had so many firsts. He went to the first year of Larkin School. Now we're used to people being, you know, just mainstreamed into regular Public Schools.

So as the youngest child in the family. My mom would often take me over to Lark Lane while she was working on projects over there. And sometimes she was really busy.

I would go to the [00:15:00] activities class. So as a three four five-year-old this, these kids became friends to me and this became a very normal thing and I remember when I went to kindergarten I was absolutely amazed at the fact that you know, Nobody in my kindergarten class had leg braces and it was really interesting.

I think to grow up with this very early perspective that this was normative. And so why couldn't we be that way now Beth why couldn't we now say with in our community? That's no big deal that's normative. Who is this person beyond their disability? That's the question that I learned to ask early on and to see beyond the disability.

I think watching my brother he went the first summer of Camp courageous what an opportunity to have a summer camp that kids with [00:16:00] disabilities could go to, It scared my mom to death, but it was such a freeing experience.

What a wonderful experience for him. So, I saw him I so many first and unfortunately also saw him as like so many people with Down Syndrome. He developed Alzheimer's and so there has been a lot of talk about you know, how do you deal with an aging population? Folks that are living longer with their disability, right and what you know, I can't tell you how many nursing homes I called.

They said no. No, we are not up to that. Wait a minute, you know, it's a diagnosis of Alzheimer's it's you know, it's the same as your other patients. So, there's a lot of things we have to ask ourselves. I think that's what this dialogue really needs to be about is looking at our behavior and looking for ways that we are not really meeting the needs of our full community.

That's what I've been saying is at least a big chunk of [00:17:00] this is changing the way we see ourselves and the way we see each other and then what's it going to take? Like, what is it going to take Sandy Spang? Well, I think it's going to take a change in as you say the way that we personally see things.

I think it's going to take a change in the way that the business Community see these things. I think it's going to take a change in the way that our institutions see things it's you know, I think a lot of people think we've solved this problem, right? You know, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

And so that somehow, they think we have solved this problems because buildings are more accessible, but I think we need to think about this in a much broader way. So, I think what it's going to take is first of all, it's going to take this dialogue people really need to participate. They need to find a way to be a part of this conversation.

They need to consider it their [00:18:00] responsibility. Even if they think they have nothing to offer. They need to be a part of this conversation. After the conversation, we need them to look for ways that we can actually act and they're going to do those things are going to be different for everyone, right, you know, whether like say whether you're an employer or whether you are a part of one of our institutions, whether you're part of government, whether you're part of a, you know, the Healthcare System, whatever education system in in whatever way that you can to be a part of change, but I think.

Holding on to this idea.  It is not too big an idea. We need to focus on the idea of being the most disability friendly community in the country. I think it's a fantastic goal. Thank you so much. One of my hopes is that these conversations inspire [00:19:00] people to start imagining themselves as. creative problem solvers and I hope that some of our community forums can invite the public into that. Together to bring our best ideas about what is possible and then get some traction around that so these public forums that we're scheduling are not just about awareness.

It's really like where are our thinkers and the community who wants to come together either in small groups or large and hear what's happening and then start imagining together. I think if we get creative together, we might have a hope. So, thank you for inspiring that and I hope that this conversation has done that for those that are listening.

You can follow us on Facebook disability dialog or disability dialog.com. Where these Community forums will be shared check [00:20:00] us out and join us. Thanks Sandy Spang. You're welcome.

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