Our Story: Part One “The idea”

Access 4 All Spokane is an ongoing project involving dozens of dedicated people with disabilities, advocates, family members, educators, service providers and other allies that come together with the goal of improving accessibility and disability friendliness in our area.

The idea of a website that would feature places that are welcoming and accessible  came about in late 2011 during meetings of the Inclusion Network, a group of volunteers affiliated with The Arc of Spokane that promotes activities designed to break down barriers between people with and without disabilities.

They shared personal stories about specific restaurants and shops where the employees seemed to go out of their way to make people with disabilities, their coworkers, family members and friends feel right at home.

They also shared stories about places that provided the right kind of customer service, but which many people would have no way of experiencing because of stairs, inaccessible restrooms, narrow doorways or crowded aisles.

So they asked themselves, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a directory — or a website or mobile application — where people could get reilable information about the places that are both accessible and welcoming?” Such a resource would empower those people by helping them get out into their communities more, while empowering those places by connecting them to those potential customers. A win-win for everyone!

So, the Inclusion Network sent Dave Reynolds, The Arc of Spokane’s Client Support Services Coordinator and editor of Inclusion Daily Express disability rights news service, on a quest to see if there was such an online resource here in our area, or if there was one that could be adopted or adapted to meet local needs.

Dave started researching and connecting with other disability organizations in our area. He quickly found websites for other cities, regions, and countries had online accessibility directories. But not Spokane or Spokane County.

He also found many apps for mobile devices that users can rate places for accessibility. Unfortunately, these mostly addressed one specific type of barrier, such as stairs or steps for wheelchair users.

Most left out people who are blind or have some vision loss; are deaf or have some difficulty hearing; experience autism, intellectual disabilities, or epilepsy; are anxious in crowded places; have survived traumatic brain injuries; are seniors experiencing multiple disabilities for the first time; or our wounded warriors coming back from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and previous wars.

In the spring of 2012 Dave teamed up with Alisa Alonge, an independent living advisor at SCIL (Spokane Center for Independent Living).  Alisa had experience and special training through the Northwest ADA Center in identifying and dealing with barriers to all sorts of disabilities, and as an ambassador for Leader Dogs for the Blind.

As they continued researching, Alisa and Dave learned through the most recent census that more than 80,000 people in Spokane County identified themselves as having one or more disabilities. Using Labor Department data, they estimated that people with disabilities in our area have more than $360 million in combined discretionary (spending) power — not to mention that of their friends, family members, colleagues, visitors, care providers, and other allies. After all, few people go out to dinner or movies by themselves.

If Dave and Alisa could connect those people with the places that had made the commitment to be accessible and welcoming — in terms of time, thoughtfulness, and often money  — this might encourage others to follow their examples.

And provide a direct way to empower our entire community!

They also realized it was going to take a lot of people from a lot of backgrounds and expertise to make this happen.

But who should they include?

The answer always came back in the form of the question: “When it comes to helping our communities become more inclusive, how could we exclude anybody?”

Thus, our primary values statement: “All means all” . . .

posted by Dave Reynolds

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