Conference Access Blogs: Melissa Mitchell

NeighborWorks Training Institute 2019

by Melissa Mitchell

I was pleased to be invited back to the NeighborWorks National Training Institute (NTI) this year as a part of the Disability Ambassador program with the World Institute on Disability (WID). My name is Melissa Mitchell, and I work as a service dog trainer in Washington state.

I chose to apply to be an ambassador for WID at NeighborWorks after my experience moving to take my current position. I began looking for housing three months before I was supposed to move, so I was sure I would find something that would be accessible to me as a full-time power wheelchair user. As my move date approached and I still did not have housing, I held out hope that of course something had to become available. After all, my accessibility needs are fairly simple: a reasonably open floor plan with doorways and hallways wide enough for my wheelchair to fit through, along with the addition of simple safety bars in the bathroom. Little did I realize, as I shared with one of my NeighborWorks lunch companions, that less than 1% of all available rental housing meets even these minimal accessibility needs.

A white woman using a power wheelchair smiles with her mobility service dog, a Golden Retriever
Disability Ambassador Melissa visits the WID Disability Concierge Desk with her service dog, Tanner.

I ended up living in a hotel for a month while starting my new job and placed my things in storage. I finally thought I had found a place that met these very minimal accessibility needs –  a first-floor apartment, with no more than two steps to entry as per my directions. I called the movers and arranged to have my stuff delivered along with myself – only to be surprised on arrival with 5 very steep stairs to the front door, and no other options for entering or exiting the apartment. I did my best to try to make it work for about two weeks, my friends coming over to help me in and out while I tried to work with the landlord to get an appropriate ramp. Long story short, I ended up moving out of that apartment and moving in with friends for a little over two months, while I continued my search for an appropriate and safe place to live.

My story illustrates the need in affordable housing to plan for not only fully ADA accessible units, but for a minimum level of visit-ability, featuring entries and hallways usable by people using mobility equipment, such as myself. By doing this, we can not only increase the availability of accessible housing, but also increase the accessibility of housing for people as they age, whether they are currently experiencing disability or not. It would also create the ability for people with disabilities to visit with their friends and family in their homes, rather than always having to have people go to the home of the person with a disability.

NeighborWorks and the World Institute on Disability made possible my participation in this training by providing me with accessible accommodations at the hotel. For me, that included a wheelchair-accessible hotel with an ADA-accessible hotel room, complete with roll-in shower and automatic doors. They also helped me arrange accessible transportation options to and from the hotel, and WID staff were educated on providing assistance in a respectful and efficient manner.

Attending the NeighborWorks training offered me the opportunity to take classes in nonprofit communications, donor relations, and the functional use of social media in these domains. I will take the knowledge that I learned at NTI and share it with others within my organization to improve our communications overall, with particular focus on bringing our communications up-to-date through the use of social media. I learned that this helps our donors feel like the vital part of our organization that they indeed are. NeighborWorks’ partnership with the Conference Accessibility Initiative by JP Morgan Chase and the World Institute on Disability ensures that the perspectives of the disability community were represented in body, mind, and voice, allowing for a real-time sharing of knowledge and resources that will benefit all programs, projects, and neighborhoods represented at NTI. Thanks to the focus on accessibility and the purposeful inclusion of people with disabilities, I was able to access knowledge and experiences that I would not typically have access to. I was able to share my knowledge and resources as it relates to disability resources and programs that may have complimentary missions and purposes to those of NeighborWorks programs. This allows all of the programs to better fulfill their missions and include all members of their community.

Would you like to be a Disability Ambassador with WID and JP Morgan & Chase? Applications for 2020 are now available!

To read more about our Disability Ambassadors’ experiences at NeighborWorks Training Institute 2019, follow either link below:

Brenda Muhammad’s NeighborWorks blog
Richard Rueda’s NeighborWorks blog

For more Disability Ambassador blogs, return to our Conference Accessibility Initiative 2019 main page.

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