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The City of Portland, Oregon

Community & Civic Life

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December 2019: GOOD News Alert!

This month, we celebrate the access changes you’ve created and offer another chance to share YOUR access success

  Scandal Erupts at City Hall: Staff secretly creating access. Two staffers tell all!

Breaking News!

 Today’s story comes to you straight from the heart of the City of Portland. We’ve received word that deep in the bowels of this very bureaucracy, City staff are secretly creating access every day.

[Staff came out from hiding, just like this baby leopard peeking out from behind a gnarly tree trunk.

[Staff came out from hiding, just like this baby leopard peeking out from behind a gnarly tree trunk.]

The Scoop

The results of our October 2019 survey let us know we might have a story on our hands…a big one. Over 50 people reported creating changes to their policies and practices to improve disability accessibility. Of those, 18 said they’d share their work with us.

When we reached out for comment, our sources went silent. Were they terrified at the thought of publicizing their good work? Overwhelmed by emails? Still recovering from eating too much turkey? The world may never know.  

Intrepid investigation (or was it the reminder email?) revived a story that might have otherwise remained buried forever. And two sources came forward to tell us the juicy details of how they improved accessibility in their work.

They even used their real names.

Our Sources

Kari Koch, Office of Community & Civic Life

Georgia West, Office of Community & Civic Life

What did you change, in 10 words or less?

Kari Koch

  • Created more accessible meetings
  • Publicized event access
  • Made accessibility a grant requirement

Georgia West

  • Created disability demographics forms
  • Designed work routine to create accessible documents

Details, please! Let’s begin with Kari Koch, Policy Coordinator with Civic Life.

What exactly did you do?

Investigated and used meeting spaces that met a variety of accessibility needs and included fully descriptive meeting access information in the announcement.

Our readers might not know what that means. Can you share an example?

Sure. This is a sample of what we put on an event announcement:

Accessibility information

There is a parking lot with accessible spaces. The building is all one floor with wide doorways. There are several different chair styles, including arm-less chairs. Please refrain from wearing scented products or using scented markers. Participants are welcome to use any restroom. The City of Portland is committed to providing meaningful access. To request translation, interpretation, modifications, accommodations, or other auxiliary aids or services, contact 503-823-xxxx, Relay: 711, by Nov 9.

How did people respond once you made this change?

I think that people appreciated it, but I don’t know that I got any real feedback from community. Maybe people referenced it, maybe they didn’t? I do know that we effectively switched out stinky markers for non-stinky markers, which people appreciated.

What advice do you have for others who want to make this change?

Physically look at a space before you publicize any access info (Joanne taught me that!) and include things that are maybe not currently “standard”, such as scent free, restroom status, and information on chair type. Chair type is really important for people with larger bodies or who have specific needs around seating style. Provide template-style language for others that you hope adopt the practice

Thanks! You mentioned another change you wanted to share?  

Oh, I also required grantees to provide accommodations and promote access information for their programming that is funded by a City of Portland grant.

That’s fantastic! What happened next?

I got positive feedback from disability justice and social justice organizations.

I didn’t get negative feedback, but I do think that some of the grantees just didn’t do it and once other staff took over it doesn’t seem like they required it as a part of the grant work. I left the program before I had a chance to do a survey or assessment of whether this had become a standard practice for grantees, so I’m not sure if it affected much change outside of the organizations that were already doing this sort of thing.

Hmmm…yes, it can be hard to know how improvements in access are carried forward. Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

I like equity and access requirements as part of granting or contracting. It feels like a place that we have power to implement change as staff. In order for it to work, we have to put money into it – which means adding or requiring line items in the grant budget or providing a pool of money that grantees can draw from. It does require follow up and tracking from staff in order to fully implement.

Valuable insights here about what it takes to create and promote access in our programs. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Kari! 


Now, let’s chat with Georgia West, Management Analyst at Civic Life

Georgia, thanks for agreeing speak with us. What change did you make in your work?

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work, Joanne. When I was serving at the Advisory Bodies Program, my colleagues and I worked extensively with the Civic Life Disability Program, the Office of Equity and Human Rights staff, and other disability justice staff folks to create a question on the demographic forms that would permit visibility for the diversity of ways folks experience disability.

Demographics are cool. That way, we know who shows up to events, right?

Yes. Our intent with that question is to start collecting data on the communities we serve and planning for ways to best and more efficiently serve folks. You know how spotted our knowledge of the disability community in Portland is, I’d even venture to say that we might know very little on the national level. This was a first systematic attempt to learn more.

Wow, thanks for sharing! Where would folks be able to see the question?

The current format of this question and its possible answers are available on all City of Portland advisory body application forms. This work gained attention in other jurisdictions and the Advisory Bodies Program has been invited for quite a few interviews about it, Ashley Tjaden can tell you more about all that. But I do want to highlight that the City of McMinnville loved the work so much that they have incorporated our advisory body application process into their NEOGOV system with the disability question and answer included in it.

You also mentioned you developed a routine to create accessible documents. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

Sure. I ended up making it a habit for any document, even if I’m not going to share it with anyone else. Just so I personally create the habit of naturally doing that.

 For my routine, it’s a simple three-step process:

  1. When creating a document in Word, I always use the “Styles” feature assigning headings and normal text for all language, so it is easier for the conversion;   
  2.  When converting documents into pdf in Adobe Acrobat, I use the “Accessibility” tool to turn on an Accessibility Report; and   
  3. Lastly, I use the “View” tab to test it through the “Read Out Loud” function.

Excellent tips, Georgia! Thanks so much for sharing these resources and your process.

Both Kari and Georgia have generously agreed to be available by email. If you have questions about how to implement their access successes in your work, please reach out!

The Investigation Continues

Our deepest thanks to Georgia and Kari for shedding light on access improvements happening behind the scenes in our very own City of Portland.

If you missed the survey question or follow up email about sharing your access changes, don’t despair!

Share your story

Our on-the-ground correspondents tell us there are many more accessibility stories out there. And we want to know about them.  Please email to let her know you’re interested in sharing YOUR access success. If your feeling shy, you could encourage your colleagues or share a team success.

 You’re not shy like this polar bear hiding their face behind their paw, are you?

[You’re not shy like this polar bear hiding their face behind their paw, are you?]

Not up for responding to a bunch of questions? Nervous about how it will all turn out?

No worries. Our format and timeline for sharing upcoming successes is TBD. We’ll collaborate to make sure your story is shared in a way that works for you.  

The possibilities are endless.

We can’t wait to hear from you.