• By Dana Casadei

Erica Coulston


It all started with a parking ticket last summer. The ticket was only for $10, but for Erica Coulston that was the last straw. “In 2016, the city of Birmingham converted their free metered wheelchair accessible spots to paid metered spots, and in doing that, they also added quite a few wheelchair-accessible spots,” Coulston said. “I commend them for doing this. They did this to try and solve a problem of not enough wheelchair-accessible spots and people being in them for too long. So they were trying to solve that problem. “However in doing that, quite a few of the wheelchair-accessible spots that they added, as well as the crosswalks and curb cuts associated with them, didn't meet American Disability Act (ADA) standards. They also were either unusable or unsafe.” Take for example the spot Coulston, who has lived in Bloomfield Hills for 15 years but frequents Birmingham, had parked in. Because of where the handicap parking spot was, she had to back in so she had access to her wheelchair ramp, which comes out the passenger side. This parking spot also had the issue of her ramp being in the way of the outbound driveway of the police station to get to the sidewalk. Coulston has a spinal cord injury from a car accident in 2001 that left her paralyzed from the chest down and therefore, uses a wheelchair to get around. In 2007, she and her family started Walk the Line, a Southfield exercise based neurological recovery program that specializes in brain and spinal cord injuries. So, she parked the only way she could, put her handicapped placard that had a free parking sticker on it, and went to her appointment. Then she came back and discovered said ticket because she had backed in to an angled parking spot. "I was a little mad and it's like a $10 ticket, but I fought the ticket because I had to do this,” she said. “I find the parking ticket. I go in front of the magistrate, tell her the problem and she's like, you know, you should really meet with the police chief.” After telling a friend who works with Michigan Paralyzed Veterans Association, which does advocacy work for accessibility and community access, she was introduced to a lawyer who specializes in ADA compliance. The duo surveyed the city and took notes of where the problem areas were, which they then brought to the city and police chief. From there, the city agreed it was problematic and a consent decree, which is a legal agreement between the city and Coulston, was created and signed in May. Over the next five years 78 parking spots, 158 crosswalks, and 295 curb cuts have to be fixed due to the consent decree. “You don't often times get to have a situation where what you do actually has a change that you can see. That's really rewarding to have that happen, especially in a place that you go to all the time,” Coulston said. “It will make it easier and safer for me, but these are improvements that will benefit the community.” Coulston’s work with the city isn’t done yet. Up next is tackling access to stores, restaurants, and businesses to be more wheelchair accessible. “I don't know what that looks like, but I do think that's an important next step. That benefits people with strollers and all kinds of other devices,” she said. “My dad's in his seventies, and he's going to eventually be using a scooter or a walker...that baby boomer population is not gonna take kindly to not being able to access things.”

Photo: Laurie Tennent

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