Back in 2013, wheelchair-riding protesters with a group called Warriors on Wheels (WOW) blocked traffic on a Detroit overpass at Southfield Freeway and Outer Drive to raise awareness about the need for curb cuts at the intersection. It’s been several years since that dramatic demonstration, but the group is still busy as ever fighting for the rights of people with disabilities, particularly the need for communities to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Mode Shift recently reached out to Lisa Franklin, WOW's founder and a former board member with Southeast Michigan's Regional Transit Authority, to speak with her about her organization and making transportation more accessible to people with disabilities.
What can you tell us about your organization and its work?
Warriors is an organization dedicated to the advocacy and education for people with disabilities. We try to put them with resources they may need and also educate them on the laws. So they know when they go someplace what their rights are as an individual with a disability.
How did WOW get started?
It started when I was injured in a car accident by a drunk driver. I raised my children for a little over eight years from the accident’s time. When we were raising our kids after the car accident, going into restaurants and going into public places and flying and taking trips and everything, I realized what a travesty it was that people in wheelchairs could not access places other people could go to.
After [my children] graduated from high school, I ran for Ms. Wheelchair Michigan and placed first-runner-up. It was a contest of who could best articulate their platform. That's when I decided to make my voice heard. I got a couple of other young ladies that were in the competition with me to start Women on Wheels. Then an attorney friend of mine said: 'You might want to have it so men could be involved.' So that's how I came up with Warriors on Wheels. We've been having meetings at my church since 2008. I've got a seven-member board and about 25 members—other people in wheelchairs, people that are blind and hearing impaired as well.
Mode Shift covered your wheelchair blockade back in 2013. At the time, it seemed that efforts to install curb cuts at the intersection were held up by a jurisdictional dispute between Detroit, Wayne County and the State of Michigan about who was responsible for paying for their construction. What was the outcome of the protest?
It turned out great. It blocked traffic. Helicopters were there, and three jurisdictions of police law enforcement came out. They allowed us to stay there as long as we were peaceful. We got it done. It brought the attention to the issue, and it was good for everybody in the area. It was great for the school and the people in that apartment really appreciated it.
And the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) took care of installing the cuts?
Yes. MDOT came out and they did an assessment, and they kept us abreast of everything they did along the way. It was really good.
What else has WOW been up to lately?
We've been working with Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and with Paratransit. [Paratransit is a special transportation service for people with disabilities]. We've been following their contracts and doing work there. We just recently got a grant from the Nielsen Foundation to do small home modifications for people with spinal cord injuries.
We've been looking at different buildings for lack of accessibility. Right now there are a couple of banks in the area that aren't wheelchair accessible. They don't have door openers. Don't have parking lots that have van-accessible parking spaces.
We're working with Wayne State's law school. They're helping us to talk to grocery stores in the area and the libraries, the Detroit public libraries that are not wheelchair-accessible. We recently collaborated with engineers to offer suggestions for the accessibility and accommodations at the new Red Wing Stadium.
Having served with the RTA, do you have any thoughts on its ability to improve things for folks with mobility challenges?
[Better public transportation] definitely would improve [the situation]. Because it would give us the opportunity and the option to take the line home as opposed to having to wait two hours. With Paratransit, there's a two-hour turnaround. If you have to go somewhere to cash a check or go get money... with Paratransit, you stay there for two hours before you can get a turnaround trip. So if you had public transportation that was accessible for everyone that went across the city limits, then, yes, absolutely it would be better for us. So I really hope to see that come to pass.
Anything else you'd like people to know?
That people with disabilities are no different than you. Pay attention to the width of the aisles, whether or not doors are blocked, whether or not there's a door opener. How can a person with disabilities be better served in the community? We need more people to voice our concerns. The Paratransit system right now... It's heart-wrenching how people have to wait. If we could get more people to try to take note—and not have sympathy but more empathy and understanding—even with the parking space in parking lots. If you don't have a challenge and you’re using your auntie's sticker or placard, someone who really needs that space may come along after you're five minutes in the space. Just a little more consideration.
WOW meets the first Monday of the month (excluding January and February) at Fellowship Chapel on 7707 W. Outer Dr. in Detroit. For more info, visit WOW's website: http://wow4metrodetroit.weebly.com/