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Indira Sheumaker discusses accessibility at City Council meetings

Councilwoman Sheumaker recently returned to in-person meetings after struggling with her mental health and COVID-19.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Councilwoman Indira Sheumaker said her battle with mental health has been ongoing since she was a teenager. 

"I was literally counting the years until it was more than half my life," she said. "So, at this point, yeah, its been more than half my life." 

After contracting COVID-19, Sheumaker experienced a dip in her mental health, causing her to miss council meetings. 

While Sheumaker has had problems like this in the past, they are now much more visible.

"I wasn't able to take that time to go back to zero, to go back to where I was okay, and I was healthy, and I was able to then get back to the place where I was able to come to a council meeting," she said.

Sheumaker's experiences highlight questions surrounding post-pandemic accessibility. 

Catherine Johnson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, said that although the pandemic was difficult for everyone, it did bring us a couple of insightful understandings. 

"We can offer events and education and work in a virtual format," Johnson said. "And when we do that, we open up a lot of barriers that have existed for people with disabilities to attending events, and to working into going to school."

Sheumaker said being remote for a city council meeting put into perspective how difficult it was to use the city's accessibility resources. 

"You can't hear anybody, and they can't hear you and you can't see what's going on in their room," Sheumaker said. "And nobody speaks into the microphone. And people's mics get cut off when they don't want them to speak."

Johnson worries how quickly some of these accommodations are leaving us post-pandemic, as she said we haven't always considered the voices of people with disabilities in the past. 

"Continuing that forward movement is important to make sure that individuals with disabilities know that they are welcome to come to all these different kinds of meetings, and that their perspectives are considered important," she said.

Local 5 reached out to the city to see what accommodations are available for City Council meetings. They said you can view Des Moines City Council meetings in real time on YouTube or DMTV-7.

If you are in need of more accessibility accommodations, the city asks that you reach out to them at least three business days before the meeting so they can prepare. 

They urge anyone with concerns to visit the city's website or contact their city officials. 

The city of Des Moines also said they currently pay for professional captioning on YouTube for every City Council meeting. 

    

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