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Absolutely Accessible Upper Peninsula

SAIL raises awareness for disabled individuals

Architects, builders, contractors students and members of the disabled community are seen at the Holiday Inn of Marquette Tuesday for the Superior Alliance for Independent Living’s Absolutely Accessible Upper Peninsula event, which aimed to raise awareness and increase accessibility throughout the community for disabled individuals. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

MARQUETTE — One in five people live with a disability, according to the Superior Alliance for Independent Living.

To raise awareness and increase accessibility in the community for those with disabilities, SAIL hosted Absolutely Accessible Upper Peninsula on Tuesday at the Holiday Inn in Marquette.

The event brought together architects, builders, contractors and students to discuss various ways to make the community more accessible and improve the lives of those with disabilities.

SAIL Executive Director Sarah Peurakoski said there is a range of accessibility in Marquette. Some businesses are building with this in mind and some are updating to be more accessible, but for many older businesses accessibility is not a thought or not a viable option financially.

Lack of awareness is one of the biggest problems facing the disabled community, she said.

“I think for the most part they’re not as familiar with how many people have disabilities, or are struggling to get into their business, or utilizing their programs or things like that. It’s important we ask people with disabilities what are the things needed versus making the assumption,” Peurakoski said. “The (Americans with Disabilities Act) is out there as a law, but even though people know about what it is, they don’t necessarily always follow it or think about excess reasons for making sure it’s accessible.”

Often people think of disabled individuals as just those in wheelchairs, she said, but it’s a much larger community. Communication between the disabled and the business community could help businesses go past those first few simple steps such as having a handicap bathroom.

“Sometimes they miss the entire picture and they just kind of focus on one thing, one at a time, so if you really talk to people with disabilities and get involved with our community, I think that you’ll have a much better education,” Peurakoski said.

SAIL hopes to improve this communication and community accessibility with its Access4All program, which provides education, consultation and other on-site services to businesses, organizations and units throughout 15 counties. Lucy Wilcox, certified ADA and accessibility services coordinator, consults with such agencies on their compliance with the ADA, Architectural Barriers Act, and state and local codes and regulations. This is often done with the help of SAIL’s ambassador team made up of individuals with various disabilities such as being handicap or sight and hearing impaired. The team visits buildings to see what is helpful or what hindrances disabled individuals experience at a business.

Peurakoski encouraged anyone to give SAIL a call at 906-228-5744 or email Wilcox at lucyw@upsail.org to discuss a building’s accessibility.

“We really don’t want it to be a fearful thing. We’re not trying to come in to catch anybody,” Peurakoski said. “We want them to be educated and talk about the barriers businesses have, money barriers, ‘I don’t know how to do this, where to start,’ and just contact us and have that initial conversation.”

Conversation between the disabled and the rest of the community will foster the change needed to make the U.P. accessible for all, she added.

“Keep talking from your heart about what it’s like for your friends and families,” Peurakoski said. “One in five people live with a disability, so typically somebody has a family member that is struggling with some type of disability. Talk to them, ask them what are some of the barriers they have going into businesses, and say: ‘Hey, we want to learn from this. Can we help you and learn how to make it more accessible so we can all be here at the same time?’ I think it’s really just about conversation and speaking from the heart.”

The event’s keynote speaker was Allen Beauchamp, member of the SAIL Board of Directors, health and safety coordinator for Argonics and General Manager of Sled Hockey U.P.

Beauchamp, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 2010, discussed some of the challenges disabled individuals face and how he overcame these hardships to once again enjoy some of his passions.

Beauchamp has a disability, but he is also an advocate, a downhill skier, an ice hockey player, a biker, a kayaker and more.

He said there are many things he wished local business owners understood about the disabled community.

“If you have a business, say it’s a restaurant or a retail store and its not accessible, and say an individual wants to go there and that individual is being excluded, you’re not just excluding that one individual. You’re excluding all of his or her friends, his or her family because word spreads quickly,” Beauchamp said.

While financial means can often keep businesses, especially mom-and-pop shops, from becoming more accessible, he hopes they will consider making “reasonable accommodations” or small solutions to barriers faced by disabled individuals so that they too can enjoy all the local businesses.

To help make the U.P. absolutely accessible, donations can be made to the Sled Cats — the U.P. sled hockey team for disabled individuals — or to SAIL’s One in Five Annual Appeal, which raises money for the disabled community to gain access to various life-enhancing programs by visiting upsail.org.

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.