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At a newly accessible venue in Kalamazoo, a belated birthday party for the ADA

Small group of people sitting at the Farmer's Market listening to speakers at the Access for All Celebration.
Jodi Miesen
Kalamazoo residents celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the ADA.

The Disability Network of Southwest Michigan hosted the “Access for All Celebration” at the Kalamazoo Farmer's Market.

The Americans with Disabilities Act turned 30 at an unfortunate time. The birthday, in summer of 2020 coincided with the pre-vaccine days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, two years after COVID dashed hopes of a 30th birthday bash, celebrants gathered in Kalamazoo to mark the ADA's 32nd anniversary. 

The nonprofit Disability Network of Southwest Michigan hosted the “Access for All Celebration” at the Market last Friday. Miranda Grunwell helped to organize it. She said the celebration was long overdue.

“It was just a time for the community to come together, and celebrate, celebrate everything we've achieved, and also talk about what's to come, we still don't have full access, we still don't have full inclusion and access for all,” said Grunwell.

Grunwell added that some Southwest Michiganders with disabilities are still struggling to access housing and healthcare. 

The civil rights law protects the disabled from discrimination in housing and healthcare, but also employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and access to state and local programs and services.

For many who attended the event, the passage of that law had a noticeable impact on their lives.

“It really allowed for me to blossom. The day that the ADA was passed was the day after my birthday. So, I feel like it was a birthday gift,” said Pam Burpee.

“Well, in many respects, it has a lot of the training programs and so on that I've been able to participate in a lot of the devices that I've been able to utilize are all back to the ADA law,” Ron Lambe said.

“Oh, yes. Everything is built nowadays is thinking of the ADA,” said John Schram. “People are - in the forefront of their concentration when they build something. 'Is it ADA accessible?'”

“A lot of times when people think of the ADA, they think of ramps and parking. And it's bigger than that. It's really about having access to your community,” said Miranda Grunwell.

The Kalamazoo Farmers Market recently got an overhaul for greater accessibility. That made it a fitting venue for the celebration. Katelyn Bekken is the market manager of the market. She says the event was a success.

 “This is really the first event that we've had besides the farmers' markets down here,” said Bekken. “So it's super exciting to see the space come together. And it's, it's really nice to see how accommodating it has become so right.” 

Improvements include bigger handicapped parking spaces, paved sidewalks and parking lots, and bigger bathroom stalls. The market also now has tables whose height can be adjusted to accommodate wheelchairs.