Feature Article - October 2009
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Meeting Needs

Ensuring Accessibility

By Richard Zowie

Recreation & Sports for All

In the recreation industry, countless businesses compete to design, manufacture, produce and supply products. The same rings true for the segment of the industry committed to accessibility, where companies offer a wide spectrum of products to help recreational facilities better serve those with special needs.

Access to Recreation President and Founder Don Krebs came to the industry from his personal desire to return to his favorite sports. At 17 years old, he had water-skied at speeds up to 90 mph, but a racing accident in 1978 rendered him a quadriplegic.

"I did my best to find a water ski that would allow me to get back to the sport I loved, but what I found were hundreds of items for other sports and/or hobbies but nothing for me to ski on," Krebs explained. "Being a quad who was so active before my injury, I was not one to just sit and watch others having fun on TV. There was also a real need to find an occupation I could love. I don't know who said it but it is true: 'If you love your job it is not work.'"

Before the accident, he had recently graduated from California Lutheran University with a degree in business administration and went for his master's degree. He took a course in entrepreneurship and, for the final project, had to write a complete business plan with three years of financial projections. Ultimately, his professor encouraged him to put that plan into action, and now he supplies products across the sports and recreation industry to improve accessibility.

"I know when I water skied again for the first time, I felt that if I can water ski as a quadriplegic, I can do almost anything," he said. "Such as start my own business, buy a house, get married and raise a family. All those things I have done since then."

Even with the success of his business, Krebs has found that recreation-accessible products are still somewhat of a secret. "Nearly every time I hand someone a catalog for the first time, their reply is almost always the same, 'I never had any idea there were so many products out there for people with disabilities,'" he said.

Rockland, Md.-based Bankshot Sports also provides accessible products and services, specializing in non-competitive sports equipment: Bankshot Basketball, Bankshot Tennis, Bankshot Soccer and a Bankshot Tri-Sport option featuring tennis and pitch-and-throw.

The games are easy to set up, family-friendly, non-aggressive and have safety features requiring no running and no physically-aggressive play. In these sports, players play alongside, but not against, each other. They are "total mix" sports based on a universal design offering integration, socialization and inclusion of athletes from all abilities. There is neither an offense nor a defense. Gender, size, strength and speed are irrelevant.

Often, those who try the various stations in basketball, tennis and tri-sport find them "difficult but doable."

Brenner came up with the idea for Bankshot in 1981 as a way of providing the first total mix, non-exclusive game where wheelchair athletes and able-bodied persons could play where nobody was at a disadvantage. He drew inspiration for the company from his cousin, who was in a wheelchair.

"It led me to realize the imbalance of recreation in the world," Brenner explained. "We don't take certain segments of the population into account."

The equipment is featured at the King Farm Mattie Stepanek Park in Rockville. The park was named after the late Mattie Stepanek, who had Dysautonomic Mitochondrial Myopathy (a disease that hinders the body's muscles from functioning properly). Stepanek authored many books and became a symbol of peace before passing away before his 14th birthday. His message, as Brenner described, was "to reach for peace to overcome hostilities, setting aside combat in favor of companionability, friendship and taking small steps toward one another in harmony and goodwill."

He added, "Bankshot Sports are all about peace at play, and teaching peace through play. Bankshot represents cooperation, accord, cordiality, fellowship and brotherhood. Participants don't play against one another and don't try to beat one another although there is plenty of room for competition."