Increasing visibility: Asheville and Buncombe County’s Agenda for People with Disabilities

Press release from Sustain NC: 

Asheville City Council is expected to soon vote on changes to city hall’s 1995 Americans with Disability’s Act (ADA) performance policy. These changes will improve ADA issue responses. People with disabilities (PwDs) and PwD stakeholders—including parents, caregivers, medical professionals, and policy evaluators—should understand these changes.

To increase visibility of the local PwD population and their needs, a small team of Asheville residents have formed Asheville and Buncombe County’s Agenda for People with Disabilities (A-B PwD Agenda).

The Agenda exists to increase stakeholder involvement influencing local PwD improvements. Identifying inclusive policy opportunities, beginning with COA, is one step.

  • ADA performance changes are coming to City of Asheville (COA) affecting roadways, COA Department of Parks and Recreation, etc.
  • Asheville’s disabled are 14 percent of the population. That’s 12,000 men, women, and children. 40 percent live in poverty. – US Census
  • The COA Strategic Operating Plan and related activities emphasize diversity, equity, and inclusion. The disabled are rarely referenced.

“This Agenda is needed to support the voice of a group that is historically highly disadvantaged,” said Sustain NC developer and A-B PwD Agenda project manager Grant Millin. “The work includes capturing new PwD-oriented insights and relaying findings to the community. The excitement is about doing more, better and faster, for our disabled neighbors, friends, and family. A range of new, just outcomes are available… with new action.”

Millin will speak on the city’s proposed Strategic Operating Plan at a future city council meeting. Several PwD-oriented additions to city strategy have been identified already. Millin has also made recommendations for PwD inclusion in the COA Comprehensive Plan.

The A-B PwD Agenda teams finds this is a prime moment. COA recently announced a new Equity Manager position. This position should also be responsive to PwD needs. The Agenda will form a key document and body of input the Equity Manager and other leaders can use.

Agenda team member Ariel Harris says, “Navigating Asheville in my wheelchair is a daily risk. I am so grateful for the kindness of strangers who move obstacles or physically carry me to overcome obstacles on our uneven sidewalks that are often outside ADA formula. So many times I have come frighteningly close to becoming a statistic just crossing our streets!”

To better communicate with and include this large yet often disadvantaged Asheville minority, an A-B PwD Agenda workshop will be held Saturday May 6, 2017. Contact the A-B PwD Agenda team for more details: This guided discussion will include casual ‘cafe’ breakouts as well as education modules, while providing a safe space to discuss public healthcare and other PwD relevant topics. This is an opportunity to openly share challenges PwDs face living in this area.

“We need to better collect and publicize wellbeing data on Asheville and Buncombe’s disabled,” adds Harris. “Along with ADA issues there are other agenda items impacting our people with disabilities that are now ready to come to light.”

The Agenda team recommends PwDs and other community stakeholders log ADA issues into the Asheville-Buncombe, NC Community Issues watch area.

Non-disabled leaders from government, medical, business, education, and nonprofit organizations are welcome to attend the workshop. PwDs willing to identify as having a disability will be given priority seating. Note: Publicly identifying a PwD is never mandatory.

“As a parent, I want to make sure this city recognizes my son’s equal worth as a disabled person,” says Agenda team member Catherine Campbell. “This is a really vulnerable minority in Buncombe County. I don’t pretend to know every PwD’s daily challenges and opportunities. That’s why we need a way to openly collaborate. That’s why the Agenda exists.”

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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4 thoughts on “Increasing visibility: Asheville and Buncombe County’s Agenda for People with Disabilities

  1. Grant Millin

    Thanks for posting this, Thomas.

    Hopefully the large number of Asheville PwDs, the scope of the Asheville PwD poverty challenge, and the rest of the Asheville PwD Agenda will develop in a supported, welcomed manner and greater visibility + justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion will expand soon.

  2. Ann Karson

    I am out of the country right now, but a colleague in the Steering Committee of The Asheville Chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America sent this to me, and I believe she is approaching this organization with a view to attending the 6 May workshop. Ours is among many invisible disabilities which can be deeply handicapping and which need community attention to ensure access in many ways. I have never before heard of of this organization and am intrigued that it exists, so would like to know more. I hope it includes disabilities such as ours in its purview.

    In most settings in Asheville there is no microphone use, which one would consider a basic means of ensuring that even fully hearing people hear well in a a public setting, let alone provision of the assistive listening devices that enable those with hearing loss to have a hope of hearing. The fully deaf are sometimes catered for with American Sign Language provision, but for the majority of us who develop hearing loss as adults, this is no help. Captioning helps many of us, including most deaf people, but the most appreciated assistive listening aid for people with hearing loss, in public settings with microphones, is induction looping. Some churches and some theaters have understood that they are losing many would-be patrons, and so are finding the expense of installing those worth while. And City Council itself, with the aid of a donor, has recently done this. But at least one hopes for FM or IR devices, but they are usually lacking.

    More basic yet, of course, are the hearing aids individuals need. Our State provides one, but one only if you are not of working age (is work the only worthwhile issue for people with hearing loss or is this a measure of economic containment despite being grossly unfair?), to those who qualify economically, but in an era when research is linking untreated hearing loss with dementia, I wish this were two where needed. And it is more than time that Medicare and Medicaid covered both hearing aids and glasses! Our national organization lobbies, but local attention would be helpful too. Some cheaper hearing aids are coming onto the market online and in some chain stores, but the concern has always been where and whether the quality is adequate. We need people with hearing loss to demand what they need. Too many, along with manufacturers, are concerned with stigma: and seek that they be so small they are “virtually invisible.” They need to become large, colorful and attractive, as glasses have become. They are now fashion statements, aren’t they?

    I look forward to learning more, and I’ll bet that many like me are also interested.

    Ann Karson.

    • Grant Millin

      Hi Ann,

      I tried to contact HLAA-Asheville. The A-B PwD Agenda is also for those with hearing issues. The idea is there is a range of PwD issues in Asheville, but also no doubt many areas of common interest.

      There is good news now like a hearing loop in city council chambers. Also the COA Comprehensive Plan mentions Universal Design. I have sent council a detailed PowerPoint on the A-B PwD Agenda Project and would be happy to share that with you and HLAA-Asheville, Ann.

      Best wishes,


  3. Ann Karson

    Grant Millin,

    Good to hear from you. I am only now looking back to emails that came while I was away and seeing this.

    I intend to use your email address to make better contact with you and hopefully merge our concerns about people with hearing loss.

    Ann Karson.

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