Much has happened in Duluth since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. The ADA was enacted so that people with disabilities could live the lives they chose, living their dreams and experiencing connections in their communities. Duluth government and businesses, like most cities, have made many helpful changes, but much more remains to be done.
Roberta Cich, Chair of the Duluth Commission on Disabilities, noted, “When I started working as an advocate 20 some years ago, there was more of an adversarial process when lack of access was pointed out.” Today working to achieve accessibility is more collaborative. This is a significant development resulting from many people working to achieve the goals of the ADA by creating more awareness of the barriers people with disabilities confront.
Today we have more curb cuts, accessible parking spaces, and public accessible rest rooms in Duluth as a result of advocacy. The Duluth Transit Authority has accessible busses. The main post office became accessible after the passage of the ADA. People with disabilities and their advocates went to the city to get automatic door openers installed in the skyway system.
While we’ve made progress in Duluth, like the rest of the country, we have further to go. We need greater accessibility to places of business, employment and recreation. Many of these can happen with foresight, seeking how to provide accessibility beforehand. Often, accessibility is an afterthought, which makes it more expensive.
Parking and sidewalks continue to be a challenge, particularly in winter months. Snow removal in the Duluth area is barely meeting general needs and often fails to adequately help people with disabilities.
Employment of people with disabilities continues to be a problem, at all times, but especially during a pandemic. Many employers see the disability, not the ability. One area of particular concern is the need for accommodations for people with hidden/invisible disabilities.
With over 100,000 people in the greater Duluth area, many of the conditions and issues are similar to most cities. Advocates for ADA issues need to clearly and constantly press for change, but fortunately, the attitude of city and business leaders is progressive and generally willing to work towards solutions.
Thank you for assisting with this article: Laurie Berner, Executive Director, ArcNorthland; Roberta Cich, Chair, Duluth Council on Disabilities; Amanda Crosby, Independent Living Coordinator; Michelle McDonald, Executive Director, Lake County DAC; Sandy Moore, Legal Advocate, MN Disability Law Center.