Feature Article - October 2009
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Meeting Needs

Ensuring Accessibility

By Richard Zowie


Focus on Needs

While facilities sometimes receive upgrades or are designed to be accessible in addition to their offerings for the general population, other facilities are built specifically to focus on those with special needs. Examples include Phoenix's Disability Empowerment Center (DEC) of Arizona, the Virginia G. Piper Sports & Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities (for which construction was scheduled to begin in August) and the Virginia Home in Richmond, Va.

Phil Pangrazio, executive director for the Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL), said the Disability Empowerment Center of Arizona, a sports facility, came about through a community need. "The disability community in the Valley of the Sun has been clamoring for such a facility for more than 20 years," he explained. "There are no fully accessible sports and fitness facilities available to people with disabilities that offer a wide range of programming that accommodate accessibility needs in this manner."

The ABIL moved into the 62,000-square foot DEC in 2008, and the center also serves eight other nonprofit organizations that help those with disabilities, including the Arizona Center for Disability Law, Raising Special Kids, the Arizona Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Joni and Friends, the Statewide Independent Living Council, Arizona Autism United, the Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association, Valley Center of the Deaf and PRN Medical.

"Through co-location, the DEC has created synergistic relationships and collaborations that promote and enhance the choice, dignity, rights and responsibilities of people with disabilities and their families," Pangrazio said. "The DEC acts as a catalyst to engage individuals with disabilities, their families and organizations in efforts to provide integrated programs and services."

The DEC features lots of ADA parking with a four-level, 350-space parking garage with administration offices, meeting rooms, rooftop terraces, food service café, courtyard and computer labs that are fully accessible. There's also a completely environmentally safe meeting room for people who have multiple chemical sensitivities.

And, of course, the bathrooms for both men and women are on both building levels with many ADA-accessible stalls.

The Virginia G. Piper Sports and Fitness center at the DEC, scheduled to open in 2010, will feature 45,000 square feet of sports, fitness and aquatics and, according to Pangrazio, will be the first of its kind in not just the Grand Canyon State, but in the western United States. Besides hosting competitive sports programs for people with disabilities, it will also accommodate fitness, health and wellness programs.

Among the spacious, accessible options will be sports courts, a running track, therapy pool, lap pool, whirlpool, fitness/training equipment, rock climbing wall, locker rooms, showers and dressing areas for people with physical and sensory disabilities.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.