Activist community

Midland Biggby fosters an accessible community

A local business owner makes sure everyone has an equal chance to bond over a cup of coffee.

Norma Psycher’s Biggby Cafe, located at 6615 Eastman Avenue, is now the first in the restaurant chain to install an adult-size changing table in a bid to become more accessible.

“I’m a mom,” Pyscher said. “And when I had a baby and there was no changing table, I would get out a changing mat and change my baby on the floor. But then you don’t think beyond that stage, they turn around, they get bigger, they get anxious.

An enlightening conversation with Iris Mehler, a disability activist, allowed the entrepreneur to see how she could better accommodate people visiting her store.

Going forward, Norma Psycher said her Biggby store on Eastman Avenue was considering getting a grant that would allow them to upgrade to a height-adjustable table, allowing wheelchair users to slide rather than be lifted onto the table.

“If we could receive this grant and the full amount and get the height adjustable changing table, we would consider donating the current changing table we have to another local location that would like it,” Psycher said.

It would be another step in making the Midland community more inclusive by allowing everyone to “leave when they need to”.

Iris Mehler is also part of an effort to install accessible bathrooms in Grove Park, which would include an adult-sized changing table and a hoist for moving from a wheelchair to the toilet.

Mehler said she wants to see Midland hold a disability pride parade and a film festival, and in the next five years she hopes to see at least 10 adult-size changing tables in the city.

Mehler, whose daughter has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, said their day was often planned around finding an accessible bathroom. In an emergency without an adult-sized changing table, Mehler must use the same last resort for her 14-year-old daughter that Psycher used with her baby: the floor.

“No parent should ever face this dilemma and think about how they should place their child on a dirty bathroom floor,” Mehler said.

At Biggby on Eastman Avenue, they won’t have to.

After speaking with Mehler, Psycher said her decision to add the changing table was a “no-brainer” once they knew they had enough money and space.

Psycher owns two Biggby cafes in Midland. At 1,000 square feet, its location on Eastman is larger than most in the chain, allowing for a complete bathroom renovation to include ample space for wheelchair accessibility.

“When we fold the changing table into the open position, you can still move a wheelchair around and be able to access everything without the barrier of space,” Psycher said.

They now offer two unisex single occupancy bathrooms. Before the changing table was installed, Psycher said customers often commented on the amount of space in the larger bathroom.

“They asked me if I had a cot that I put in there at night to sleep here. It really is that big,” Psycher said. “It’s the size of my bedroom growing up, so it’s a little jarring for customers to walk into a bathroom that size.”

The new bathroom goes beyond the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which disability experts say is not sufficient for many people with disabilities.

For the City of Midland, the Biggby bathroom recognizes these disparities and is a step towards building a more inclusive community.

“I’ve had a lot of people say to me, ‘this is going to be my first place. Now when we’re out, at least we know we can stop here. So I’ll be a customer for life,'” this which is really exciting,” Psycher said.

The table went for around $3,500, and even after nine months of being out of stock, Psycher said it was “absolutely” worth it.

“Growing up, it was all about sharing coffee with people,” Psycher said. “The thought of not allowing someone to have this experience really broke my heart.”

Working alongside her mother, Psycher said their favorite memories together were shared over a cup of coffee. The business owner also met her husband at a cafe – a Biggby cafe.

Other Biggbys have expressed interest in making similar efforts at their sites, through store layout options or employment opportunities.

Stephanie Schlichter, vice president of operations at Biggby, said Psychers’ efforts are a “step in the right direction” for the company.

“Biggby Coffee as an organization is always looking for ways to make the design and layout of the store more inclusive,” Schlichter said.

Mehler said community members like Psycher give her hope that Midland can improve to be more welcoming to her daughter and other people with disabilities.

“She did it all as a young female entrepreneur on a small budget without asking anyone for help,” Mehler said. “If she can do it, anyone can. There is no more space and room for excuses.

Psycher said that in switching stores, she wanted to stay true to Biggby’s motto: “we exist to love people”.

“My encouragement to the community is always if you have an urge, say it loud so we can hear it and we can’t always do everything, but we’re always looking to improve,” she said. If we can do it, we will.”