The State of Disability Awareness and Support in Toledo

Two people taking a picture.
Tony Stuart from Friends For Life Residential Care’s Uncle Larry.

City officials and local organizations have worked together to help Toledo make steps towards improved disability awareness and support. Local leaders in this field have shared where the city excels and where it still needs improvement.

Tony Stuart is the CEO and director of Friends For Life Residential Care, 5330 Heatherdowns, Suite 207.  Stuart started Friends For Life Residential Care in loving memory of his Uncle Larry, who had a developmental disability. Stuart holds many cherished memories of him.

Since 2011, this small agency has been dedicated to helping to promote a better quality of life for individuals with developmental disabilities. They also produce the Friends For Life Podcast.

Toledo’s strengths

A person on a podcast.
Tony Stuart, CEO and director of Friends For Life Residential Care.

“I think the biggest thing that they (Toledo) have done right has been to create a change in culture,” Stuart said. “For a long time, it has felt as if there were several different levels of disability rights. And when you think of disabilities, I like to think of a triangle — you have the individual being served, the person or agency doing the service and the family that’s involved with that individual. There used to be a tug on each one of those. I think Toledo has begun to really change the atmosphere of how caring is possible.”

Stuart saw that change following the pandemic, which alerted the community that they needed to provide more support for people with disabilities.

One of the efforts Stuart mentions is Mayor Kapszukiewicz’ decision to establish the Mayor’s Office on Disability.

Stuart James is the executive director of the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, 5605 Monroe Street, Sylvania, a social services organization which gives support to individuals with disabilities.

“We (Toledo) are behind the bell curve but that’s largely because we’re an older city so modifying it (the delivery of support services for individuals with disabilities) just takes time,” James said. “I think the best thing about Toledo is we have a significant group of people, including … people (in high profile positions), who are willing to make the effort to get it right.”

Room for improvement

Tony Stuart sees Toledo’s biggest issue as supporting people with disabilities with housing. He has seen how people in the community have been affected by housing issues in Toledo through his work.

“I don’t know if it’s so much a Toledo thing versus it being an economic thing,” Stuart explains, adding “It is very hard to find appropriate housing for a lot of the population that we serve, especially when you’re trying to serve people in residential settings. One of goals for the past 25 to 30 years has been to not have individuals in facility settings, but (rather to let them) live like you and I do, in community settings and be a part of the community. When you have such a housing shortage and such a lack of ways to make things accessible to folks, it can be very tough.”

The Ability Center’s James points out that Toledo needs to improve transportation options and access for people with disabilities. “If you are a person with a disability and you don’t drive, trying to get to work every day is a problem. It can be difficult,” James said.

James shared a story of a person he knows who lives in an area that would likely only take about 10-15 minutes by drive to his employment by car, but it takes him about two hours to get to work and two hours to get home.

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Physical accessibility is another issue which James points out presents locally and nationwide. He emphasizes how difficult this can be for kids.  “It is about trying to get teachers and school administrators to allow kids to dream beyond the boundary of their disability,” James said.

He added that physical accessibility can have an effect on a kid’s social life. While a student’s school may be accessible for them, this may not be the case when they go home. For example, James posed the scenario where a kid with disabilities may not be invited to a peer’s house because he or she can not get to the basement where the peer is hanging out.

While Toledo has made moves towards providing support for people with disabilities, there are still many areas which need to be addressed. Toledo has a long history of supporting people with disabilities over more than a century and the City continues moving toward a goal of being the most disability friendly community in the country.