CODI sounds off on employment, the Underline and beach access

Miami-Dade’s Commission on Disability Issues (CODI) met on Jan. 27 to discuss various topics important to men and women who use wheelchairs, are deaf/hard of hearing, blind, or face similar challenges.

CODI is composed of a 13-member panel with representatives appointed by each commission district. Each appointee works closely with the commissioner of the district to ensure that specific needs are being addressed in a sensitive and timely fashion.

At this particular session there were members from District 5, Ernie Martinez; District 1, Damian Gregory; District 3, Jose Granda; District 6, Ora Prilleltensky, and Maria Mercedes-Villar from District 12.

“We are a serious group pursuing issues which are relevant to the community we represent,” Mercedes-Villar said.

She also noted that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities stands at 75 percent. That is the No. 1 issue on her list of priorities.

“If we can get 200 people in our communities jobs, I will feel like I’ve done something,” Mercedes-Villar continued.

She mentioned that she was going to meet with the Mayor of Doral in order to further that goal.

The Miami-Dade Housing Association presented its new ADA coordinator, Edilia Diaz. She voiced her enthusiasm for working with CODI to comply with the ADA and assist those with disabilities to find adequate and affordable housing.

Also on the agenda were issues about transportation and health and wellness. There was a presentation concerning the Underline and another about beach access and the new Wellness Center on Allyson Beach.

CODI heard presenters from Kimley-Horn and James Corner Field Operations discuss accessibility issues. They listened to suggestions from the commission concerning the project called The Underline. Currently, there is a path beneath the Metrorail which runs from the

Miami River to Dadeland. It is not lit, patrolled and lacks amenities. An organization called the Friends of The Underline has banded together to transform that unused space into a 10-mile connection for cyclists and walkers.

“The Underline will include a 10-foot path for cyclists and an eight- foot path for pedestrians. Miami-Dade Transit and the Florida

Department of Transportation are already on board,” said Stewart Robertson of Kimley-Horn.

Along the paths, there will be restrooms, cycle kiosks, food and beverage vendors and security.

“The big focus is on traffic safety,” Robertson continued, adding that the project will be in the design phase until March.

Martinez spoke to the concern of security. He said that there needs to be “real-time monitoring of the cameras and not just the capability to rewind the tape if something happens.”

Granda mentioned the need to have audible signals at the intersections of The Underline should it be constructed.

Prilleltensky mentioned a need for family restrooms and Martinez echoed her suggestion. Being in a wheelchair means that sometimes his wife will enter the restroom with him to provide assistance. The family style restrooms are a perfect for him and eliminate a lot of “awkward situations.”

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Next, the matter of wheelchair access to the beach at 64th Street was discussed. Valeria Mejia, a colleague of Sabrina Cohen from Parks and Recreation provided CODI with the information about the progress on the issue. She said that the City of Miami Beach had the funds to create a wellness center on the beach. But, the area in question is a sea-turtle nesting site and the state would not allow permanent structures for wheelchair access to be constructed on the beach. So, there will be temporary mats extended during the day to provide access which will be picked up at night. That way the turtles will not be disturbed as they nest.

The CODI meetings take place monthly at the Miami-Dade Government Center Downtown, 18th Floor, on the last Wednesday of the month from 1:30 until 4 p.m. and are open to the public.

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