Making Darke County more inclusive


By Ryan Berry

GREENVILLE — Tonya Clark, superintendent of the board for Darke County Developmental Disabilities (Darke DD), shared the organization has received over $550,000 in grant funding to help the county be more inclusive for persons with disabilities. The announcement came during breakfast with community leaders at the Birchwood Training Center. Only six counties received more funding than Darke County in Governor Mike DeWine’s effort to provide $14.9 million to support Ohioans with disabilities. Sixty-seven of the 88 counties in Ohio received funds.

The message and the effort concentrated on making Darke County more inclusive when it comes to persons with disabilities. Clark said, “Our efforts to promote inclusion and accessibility in our county reach far beyond people with developmental disabilities and includes people of all types of disabilities, including our veterans, people with hearing or visual impairments, people with mobility issues and people who need assistance with personal care needs.”

She pressed the community for the need to make improvements in all sections of the county to bring about an inclusive environment for all. Clark pointed out there are barriers that many people don’t take into consideration. People with disabilities may not be able to use stairs to get into buildings or grass and gravel can be difficult to navigate for persons with mobility issues. Narrow doorways and aisles can also be an issue for people in wheelchairs. Individuals with hearing issues may need an interpreter at meetings or events. Although most events want a large crowd, those large crowds can be scary for some people.

How do you fix those barriers. Clark pointed out some of the fixes to deal with these issues, including using ramps in place of steps, create a hard surface in place of grass and gravel, widen the aisles and provide a sensory space at large events for individuals needing a place to get away and destress for a moment.

The grant funding is an important step in making the county inclusive and will provide needed equipment and access throughout the county. According to Clark, $465,000 will be spent at several locations to make access to buildings easier. The Darke County Government Center on Garst Avenue that includes Probate and Juvenile Court, the Darke County Health Department and county records office will be getting an exterior ramp, lighting, accessible doors and push button door controls. Radiant Lighthouse Church will soon be installing a wheelchair lift to give access to the stage. In addition to church services, the church regularly hosts community events.

The Darke County Junior Fair King and Queen and their court has also made an impact on pushing for inclusiveness at the Darke County Fair. Prior to the 2023 Fair Queen Elizabeth Brewer and King Andrew Wuebker announced the kick-off of their Fair for All program. Brewer, who is in a wheelchair, understands firsthand how difficult it is to navigate the fairgrounds for individuals with mobility issues. They began working on fundraising projects before Darke DD decided to include their projects in the grant application. The result is there will be additional paved walkways on the fairgrounds to allow for access to all buildings.

Last year, the fair was able to borrow a mobile adult changing table for the first time. In 2024, the former Red Cross Building will not only have a permanent adult changing table, Darke DD is working with students in the interior design class at Versailles to design a sensory friendly room at students at the Greenville High School Technical Center to construct the room.

Adult changing tables will also be installed at the new YOLO Park restrooms, EUM Church and the New Madison Library. Brenda Miller, director of New Madison Library said, “This is a dream I brought to our board, probably three or four years ago. We want to do it for our community, but we also see the face of one of our volunteers. She is a 32-year-old woman with spina bifida who has spent her life in a chair. She does not let it define here. When I told her mother we were getting a table she burst into tears because there is just no place. Every outing has to be planned around where can we take care of our girl.” She further stated she appreciated Darke DD for not only investing in the New Madison Library, but the entire community. The board will use $75,000 to install the adult changing tables. They are also looking for another location to place a table in the northern part of the county. Ansonia and Versailles are currently under consideration.

Darke DD will also invest $10,000 in the Darke DD Board meeting room and Birchwood Training Center to allow hybrid collaboration in meetings, trainings and large events.

Persons and events interested in using Darke DD’s mobile changing unit or a pop-up tent and mobile changing table are invited to contact the organization. The office has two mobile changing units that can be parked at large events, such as the fair, Eldora Speedway, etc.

To contact Daily Advocate Editor Ryan Berry, email [email protected].

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