Warren names ADA ordinance after resident who fought for it

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published April 28, 2021

 Warren’s new ordinance amendment relating to accessibility standards has been named the “Tony Baker Bill” after resident Tony Baker, 66, who fought for it for 4 1/2 years.

Warren’s new ordinance amendment relating to accessibility standards has been named the “Tony Baker Bill” after resident Tony Baker, 66, who fought for it for 4 1/2 years.

Photo by Brian Louwers

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WARREN — Tony Baker was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis in 1985 and retired from his career in automotive prototype, paint and bodywork when he became disabled four years later.

He’s spent the last 4 1/2 years fighting to draw attention to city buildings, public spaces and businesses he found to be either flat-out inaccessible or difficult to use for people living with physical challenges.

On April 13, the Warren City Council voted unanimously to approve a second reading of amendments to the city’s code of ordinances dealing with accessibility standards, putting the “Tony Baker Bill” on the books.

 “I’ve been fighting for this for a long time, and I almost gave up numerous times,” Baker said. “But my wife kept pushing me to pursue what I believe in. All of a sudden, it just clicked. What it amounted to, the right people came along at the right time to get this done. Otherwise, I don’t think it would have ever gotten done.”

Baker, 66, said he first took his concerns to Warren Mayor Jim Fouts more than four years ago. He then brought them to the attention of former at-large City Council member Kelly Colegio, who left office in 2019. Councilman Jonathan Lafferty in District 2, who represents Baker and his neighbors, took up the issue after the last election and has been working with Warren Building Director James Cummins and Assistant City Attorney Mary Michaels to get an amended ordinance on the books that reflects federal and state standards.

The issues Baker said he has discovered include roadway crosswalks without curb cuts for wheelchairs or scooters, areas left inaccessible without sidewalks at all, and a lack of proper parking as required under federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements at local businesses.

The city’s own facilities are not without faults. At the new Civic Center South complex on Van Dyke Avenue, Baker said accessible parking spaces are not in the right location. There are no accessible seating options for people with wheelchairs or scooters in the auditorium at the Warren Community Center. At City Hall, the ramp to the doors of the parking structure is built on an angle and the doors are on a raised platform without a railing.

“My biggest complaint is the parking. If these businesses don’t have parking, they’re shutting out a 20% customer base,” Baker said. “I’ve driven away from these businesses myself. It doesn’t cost that much to put in accessible parking and a couple signs.”

Michaels addressed the City Council during the meeting to summarize the ordinance change and an implementation plan.

“This has been a long process,” Michaels said. “What we’re doing is raising awareness in the city of Warren to make sure our public buildings, commercial businesses and public facilities are brought up to date, in line with the ADA and Michigan’s barrier-free law. What this ordinance does is it adopts and recognizes the International Code Council standards for accessibility. There’s a national standard and it’s been adopted in Michigan.”

Michaels said the city’s plan reviewer suggested adopting those standards into Warren’s ordinance because it mostly mirrors those outlined in the ADA.

“It allows our building officials to enforce the standards,” Michaels said.

In addition to adopting standards compliant with the ADA, she said the city would also address any property maintenance issues involving accessibility features including grab bars and ramps, to make sure they’re in good condition.

“We’re also recognizing the need to enforce standards that have to be brought into compliance whenever there’s a renovation, consistent with the law and the state and federal regulations,” Michaels said.

Gas stations will be required to have a visible sign letting individuals with disabilities know if assistance is available. There are exemptions, she said, but “for the most part, whenever an attendant is able to help somebody with a disability, assistance is provided.”

Visible accessibility signage throughout the city, and free and clear store aisles with a proper turning range for people with mobility devices will also be addressed.

For the transition, Michaels said the Building Department intends to monitor and assess all businesses in the city, section by section, to identify compliance issues inside and outside. City officials hope to make tools available to property owners and to request voluntary compliance to benefit both the business and the community.

She suggested that loans and grants could be made available through the Downtown Development Authority to assist businesses with voluntary accessibility upgrades.

“All the credit goes to Mr. Baker,” Lafferty said before the vote was taken. “He is a champion for individuals with disabilities and a model advocate for the rights of all citizens who desire equal access.”

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