The Center for Accessible Living in Murray is launching an initiative recognizing businesses, public spaces and individuals who meet or exceed standards outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. The two-tier 'Accessible Murray' effort was presented to a forum Wednesday evening at the Murray Calloway County Hospital as part of an ongoing effort to address disability issues and awareness.
The first tier recognizes ADA compliance measured in a survey conducted by CAL. The second tier for those who go 'above and beyond,' like hiring people with disabilities, training staff or educating the public. CAL Independent Living Specialist Carrissa Johnson said ADA requires to provide assistance if it's asked for but if someone goes beyond that they should be recognized for doing so, and added that simple things can sometimes make a world of difference to somebody.
Organizations meeting the tier requirements would be presented with a decal or sticker to display. John Eads with the CAL said he hopes everyone eventually gets a sticker. A 'business of the year' award was also suggested.
Johnson said she hopes Murray will be a model for other cities in the Commonwealth. "Murray has been coined the 'friendliest city in America' so we hope to start here but we hope to use this model in other cities: Paducah, Mayfield, Benton... let's take this statewide."
The idea of an "Accessible Kentucky" effort was brought up in the forum. Johnson said the CAL Louisville branch expressed an interest in the idea. Laughing, she said, "I can't wait to get started and say 'hey Western Kentucky started something before the golden triangle.'"
Available funding for community efforts can be difficult to come by in the budgets of small towns like Murray. Yet, members in the forum from Murray and surrounding communities brainstormed other ways to spread awareness of disability issues, with an emphasis on creative projects involving an Arts Access Grant from the Kentucky Arts Council recently awarded to The Murray-Calloway County Endowment for Health Care and local writer Constance Alexander entitled “Hope & Glory: The Art of Inclusion.”
Keith Travis with the endowment said city officials know the importance of the disability and accessibility efforts and said budget limitations can be one of the biggest challenges.
"I think there's so many constraints or so many needs that are vying for the available funds that it's hard to have multiple number one projects. We know that this is a number one project yet at the same time you've got to have streets and sewers and power and all the other infrastructure and as revenue declines it makes it really tough for officials to try to allocate that. They can't do everything for everyone and yet at the same time this community is so unique, so caring and so compassionate I think they'll find a way to make those needs."
Travis said the grant has significant potential to spread awareness and looks forward to the Playhouse in the Park 'Penguin Project' production of Disney's Peter Pan Jr., which gives children with disabilities an opportunity to star in a theatrical production. He said projects like this touch hearts and raises awareness in a positive way.
Murray City Councilwoman Linda Cherry attended the forum. She said the city has been working on installing ADA compliant sidewalks and plans to discuss with Mayor Jack Rose the possibility of making the new Renaissance Park downtown more accessible as suggested in the forum. Cherry added she has been interested in creating an accessible basketball court. "We want to be compliant. The city does want to be compliant wherever possible," she said.
John Eads and Carissa Johnson of the CAL said they were impressed by the ideas discussed in the forum. Eads said, "It's the simple fact that nobody has put on these community discussions. At first, I thought it was going to be the Center for Accessible Living forcing the community to do things, but really we were just the ones that invited everyone to come and talk."
What was initially planned to be two task forces: one addressing accessibility and another about education, morphed into what Eads called "one initiative moving forward." From the launch of the 'Accessible Murray' campaign to developing creative ways to educate both children and adults alike, the effort appears to be gaining momentum. What's next for CAL, and perhaps their biggest challenge, is broadening awareness for not only Murray but with sights set on the region and statewide.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law 26 years ago by President George H.W. Bush.