Disability Advocates Push for Creation of an Office of Disability Affairs in Detroit

A group sanctioned by the City Charter Commission submitted a proposal at the commission’s most recent meeting to create an accessibility office within city government.

ADA handicap parking spot

An accessibility advocacy group proposed the creation of a city department tasked with addressing the needs of Detroiters living with disabilities as an amendment to the charter during last week’s Charter Revision Commission meeting, according to notes from The Detroit Documenters Program

The focus group, created by the Commission, is proposing the creation of an Office of Disability Affairs. The office would work toward:

  • Improving accessibility
  • Enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements
  • Provide training, resources and advocacy, and
  • Coordinate with city departments to address concerns.

​The office will be modeled after ones established in other major cities like New York or Chicago. The estimated budget for operations and personnel is 2.97 million dollars. 

“Representation matters. Having an office fully staffed with individuals who live and breathe the challenges that we face would remove the extra hassle that I deal with in getting accommodations.” – Teddy Dorsette, disability activist

A Hard Time Getting Around

Jeffrey Nolish, the policy director of Detroit Disability Power, said that there are nearly 126,000 Detroiters who report living with a disability. 

In Detroit, many of these individuals identify with have disabilities across a wide spectrum of needs, including being deaf or hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired, are wheel chair users or have a self care difficulty.  This community is facing a slew of challenges, according to Nolish.

“People with disabilities have trouble accessing accessible housing, a lack of opportunities for people with disabilities in terms of employment,” he said. “People that live with disability are often times more unemployed and underemployed.”

In addition to housing and unemployment, Nolish also notes the needs for increased services including improving access to digital tools and providing interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing when requested. 

Right now, the City of Detroit’s Civil Rights, Inclusion & Opportunity (CRIO) office staffs an ADA coordinator and currently handles accommodation requests and grievances. 

Teddy Dorsette, another member of the focus group, who is deaf, said he’s experienced frustrations with requesting accommodations from the city for public events and meetings, such as ASL interpretation services. Having an office devoted to these concerns would alleviate a lot of stress, Dorsette said.

“Representation matters. Having an office fully staffed with individuals who live and breathe the challenges that we face would remove the extra hassle that I have to deal with in getting accommodations,” he said. 

The deadline for proposals to the city charter is September 3, 2020.  These proposals will be reviewed by the full commission, and the commissioners will draft a charter that will be put up for a public vote.  


  • Eleanore Catolico
    Eleanore Catolico is Civic Reporter with 101.9 WDET, covering local affairs with the Detroit Documenters program. She enjoys techno.