My Open Letter to City Designers

I originally wrote this email for the Des Moines City Council. For the past month, I’ve adjusted the verbiage to reflect what I’ve heard in their City Council Meetings with the Public. I also adjust the bullet points and actions I wish to see them take. Otherwise, most of the letters are verbatim what I wrote below. I am sharing this because far too many cities have poor design choices that limit the accessibility of city spaces. This is unacceptable.

Accessibility creates a more open, inclusive, and welcoming environment for ALL people regardless of whether they are disabled or not. Yes, it will mean more work, but that is not an excuse to take the quick route and create an inaccessible design. Instead, work with the disabled community, and build an accessible design that meets the needs of the most vulnerable. This will, in turn, make the design and spaces accessible and inclusive to all people – as when we take care of our most vulnerable, we lift up all people.

The Letter:


I wanted to bring up how the inaccessible designs by the city of Des Moines is harming the disabled community here. I also want to be clear that the disabled community consists of people from all races, ethnicities, religions, ages, sexual orientations, and gender identities. Really anyone from any walk of life can become disabled or may be disabled. We exist and we matter just as much as any other person in this city. However, the city of Des Moines has been relatively antagonistic toward our existence. This is a growing list of concerns myself and other disability activists have.

The past council meeting in June 2021 had a discussion on sidewalks that was incredibly harmful for disabled people. I will quote Linda W. who said, “Sidewalks to affordable housing go to nowhere.” Many disabled people live in affordable housing, and sidewalks that go to our housing is not sidewalks to nowhere. That is ableism and harmful. We exist, we matter, and we have a right to this city as  well. You cannot erase us as much as you may try to do so.

I will continue to email you weekly until you address these.

  • Sidewalks in many residential areas are not wheelchair safe, most are broken and not upkept, especially in the poorer areas of Des Moines
  • Lack of infrastructure upkeep in poorer areas makes those areas more hazardous for our mobility and access to resource
  • More Public restrooms that have wheelchair accessible stalls (more than one stall especially)
  • all doors to public buildings, especially city buildings, should have a button that opens the door electronically, so that those with mobility aids can more easily enter premises.
  • accessible housing in Des Moines proper costs more than the disability benefits people receive monthly. Many of the income restricted ones are still outside of our price ranges. This gentrification is pushing us either into homelessness or into (often inaccessible) housing on the outskirts. Affordable housing is a must for the city proper.
  • Homeless camps destroyed and wheelchairs destroyed by Des Moines police. This is completely unnecessary! Homeless camps do not harm anyone and they are needed for safety. To destroy expensive wheelchairs when “clearing” these camps is brutal violence and all disabled homeless people should be compensated and given new and better wheelchairs for each one destroyed by the recklessness of Des Moines Police
  • Affordable housing for ALL people, especially homeless is possible. Salt Lake City, Utah, for instance, implemented a program where they built a series of small houses for the homeless, provided them with access to food, and this program not  only decreased homelessness significantly but it also gave people a chance to rebuild and find jobs and more suitable housing. (Thus opening up the small houses for other in-need folks). These programs exist and should be implemented here.
  • Stop rent hikes. There is no reason for one bedrooms to cost over 800 dollars in Des Moines. We can do better about having affordable and accessible housing. For housing to be accessible, there should not be steps leading up to the front doors, elevators are needed (or at least have dedicated accessible apartments on the first floor for disabled people), wider hallways and doors, on-site laundry, on-site parking that is free, working appliances, Internet access, and working utilities (this includes clean water).
  • Food deserts due to poor planning and poor zoning regulations that limit our ability to access food. We need funding taken from the bloated police budget and pushed into our communities to fund the access to food and basic necessities.
  • potholes in roads that never get fixed in poorer areas are health risks as well, especially if no sidewalks or dangerously broken sidewalks force us into the street in our wheelchairs. A pothole could send us to the hospital. We need funding for infrastructure repair and upkeep.
  • Inaccessible meetings (no hybrid virtual-in-person). ALL Meetings should have a virtual option for those of us who are homebound and may not be able to make it in-person. Failure to provide this is a direct violation of the ADA. 2020 proved that the council is capable of implementing a virtual option where we can speak virtually, so it makes little to no sense to not continue that option even as in-person activities resume
  • inaccessible bus stop placements where the curb cuts are not nearby, or the curb cuts are covered with debris or snow due to plowing and a lack of Des Moines resources in keeping them cleared. This is a common occurrence in the winter, and it is often community members volunteering to clean these areas for us because the city is failing to follow through.
  • ADA-compliant buses are difficult to schedule and not enough of them exist to meet the increasing needs of the community.
  • Paramedics are not well trained on disabled LGBTQIA needs or even how to treat us with respect and dignity. Better diversity training is needed.

As I and my other disability activists talk through the issues in Des Moines, we will update this list with more information.

Please consider the fact that we exist and we matter, and our needs should be prioritized.

We also respectfully ask that the Des Moines City Council please stop engaging in harmful rhetoric by siding with the brutality of police. By putting forth proclamations that ignore the needs of the people and continue the rhetoric of siding only with police is causing enormous distrust, frustration, and anger in our communities. We matter. Police have been known to harm and kill those in my community (disability and/or LGBTQIA community) and those of my friends (Black and Indigenous People of Color communities, immigrant communities).   Police should NOT be given more funding to continue their terrorizing of us.

We can and should build better programs and resources to meet the needs of our communities, and those programs and resources need the funding more than police need weapons and funds to kill us. The fact that the Des Moines City Council refuses to reckon with this reality puts forth the message that our lives are worthless to the council, and this is painful and anger-inducing. The people have a right to speak.

Again, please address the above list of inaccessible designs and lack of resources in our communities.

Please move funding from the bloated police budget and place it in infrastructure project in our poorer communities, projects led by our community members that increase access to education and food and utilities, programs led by community members that provide to our safety needs (without the use of police), and programs led by community members that provide to healthcare emergency needs (again without the use of police).

All of this is doable. We have the ideas, and for the past year we have tried to share them with the City Council. I implore the City Council to listen to the people for whom Council members ought to be working.

If you side with life at all, then please side with the lives of our communities, where our lives matter and deserve respect and dignity. This is our city as well, and that ought to matter to you. 

Thank you for reading,

Aidan Z.
nonbinary disabled activist, artist, writer
Pronouns: They/Them/Their or Ze/Zem/Zir

By Aibird

Open the door, step inside. Here you find a forest, teeming with animals and birds, which sweeps up the sides of snow-capped mountains. Here in the small pocket of beauty, one finds the essence of my soul. A writer at heart, I delve deep into the finer details of humanity's spirit, and seek to share with others what gems I uncover. I find life exciting and full of interesting surprises, and despite the great pain that often confronts me, I persevere with the joy in my heart still bubbling, and the light of my soul still aflame. There is a time and a place to introspect one's self, but often enough it is best to not look back in regret, but leap forward in the present toward the achievement of one's deepest dreams. I am a wanderer. An explorer. One place cannot contain me for long, but to my friends and family, I remain loyal, for love is not bound by time nor place. Once cultivated and nourished continuously, it binds people together on a journey through the unknown reaches of life.

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