Kathleen Cail and Nestor Melnyk have known each other for years. After working individually to make the world a more welcoming and accepting place for children and those with special needs, they realized their work wasn’t just about disabilities.
“We want to create an environment where everyone is accepted and no one feels singled out,” Melnyk says.
Two years ago, Cail and Melnyk spearheaded a program called LivAble Cincinnati as part of the ReelAbilities Film Festival
, which was developed around a video short that highlighted the obstacles people with disabilities face when navigating a city.
“What was most striking was that most of the obstacles were very minor and were simple to overcome,” Melnyk says. “These were obstacles that if corrected, would benefit everyone. They were really issues of universal design.”
After the program, the group stayed active and tried to come up with ways to promote universal design. LivAble Cincinnati looked at ways to educate, promote and develop those concepts in the areas of live, work and play in order to make the city a more livable, welcoming place.
According to Melnyk, people with disabilities comprise about 20 percent of the nation’s population. There is a consumer market out there that many businesses and organizations are missing out on if they don’t embrace accessibility and universal design.
“With momentum growing in Over-the-Rhine, downtown and The Banks, one of our ideas was to see how we could create an information source for people who might want to take advantage of bars, restaurants and other venues in those areas, but are concerned about their physical conditions,” Melnyk says.
During their research, Cail and Melnyk found that there were people who had never gone to those areas because they didn’t want to take their chances of going to OTR and finding out they couldn’t get into a restaurant due to physical limitations.
was born out of that research, and helps provide objective information that allows people to make their own decisions about what bars, restaurants and venues will work for them.
Cail and Melnyk looked to People’s Liberty for resources and funding — they were part of its Project Grant III class and received a $10,000 grant to execute Access Cincinnati, focusing specifically on the area from OTR to The Banks, along the streetcar route.
The pair developed a strategy to survey about 300 bars and restaurants in the project area, and held a survey launch event in August to educate volunteers on what Access Cincinnati is. Over the next few months, they will assemble information and provide an interactive mobile website that is similar to Google Maps or Yelp, but with accessibility details. The locations will be graphically represented and communicated via icons; Cail and Melnyk are also developing window clings for the bars, restaurants and venues to display.
Access Cincinnati will officially launch in early 2017. A relaunch will happen just in time for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games
, which is being held in Cincinnati. During the Games, over 600 wheelchair athletes will be staying in and around downtown, along with their trainers, coaches, officials, staff, family members and spectators.
Twice per year, eight grantees are chosen per grant cycle to prototype solutions to civic challenges. Project grantees are supported with $10,000, a launch event and access to People’s Liberty’s workplace and mentorship. Stay tuned to
Soapbox for profiles of this year's 15 other grantees.