Early Recommendations to Improve Food Pantry Accessibility for People with Disabilities in Mercer County
Matthew Broad / Trenton Health Team
June 19, 2023
Over the last year, Trenton Health Team (THT) and the Progressive Center for Independent Living (PCIL) have been working with a number of free food providers in Mercer County to decrease some of the barriers people with disabilities may face when accessing free food resources. Five free food providers have worked with the organizations to identify opportunities to improve physical and experiential access at each location. Disability awareness and sensitivity training have also been provided for staff and volunteers at each location.
As part of the assessment process, we have identified common strengths and areas for opportunity across the different free food providers. Each of the organizations already has many accessibility features in place. Examples include accessible entrances with a ramp for wheelchair users, food delivery for clients living in close proximity, staff and volunteers available to assist pantry clients, bilingual staff, and accessible bathrooms. In some cases, the accessibility features have been designed to serve the clients who regularly use the services. For example, food delivery is offered at one of the pantry locations, since there is a large senior population that lives within close proximity. It is clear that each organization has made great efforts to meet the needs of the clients they serve.
Similar to common strengths, many organizations have areas for opportunity. In particular, many organizations could benefit from additional signage with clear directions to the accessible entrance and other useful information, including pantry hours, parking, and eligibility criteria. Some of the other recommendations from PCIL include moving furniture to improve wheelchair accessibility, changing doorbell heights, and extending or altering railings. Many of the recommendations could be remediated at a low cost and would improve accessibility and safety.
As part of our project, each organization is receiving a mini grant to put some of these recommendations into action. The organizations are using the grant funds to purchase signage and install or repair safety features. An important note is that many of the free food providers are located in faith-based organizations; religious entities are exempt from Title III of the ADA. Therefore, these organizations are not making the change because they are required to do so, but because they want to provide the best experience possible for their clients. As Scott Elliott, Executive Director from PCIL, said “it’s not only about meeting the requirements, it’s about creating an environment where everyone feels welcomed”.
For additional information about our project, please contact Matthew Broad at Mbroad@trentonhealthteam.org.