What's the Ability Award?

When a person has a disability, talk around town about that person tends to center on the disability.

With its Ability Award, Disability Network/Lakeshore is changing the conversation.

“When you look at people in terms of the abilities they bring to the table, you find there is so much more to say,” said Michele Chaney, who chairs the DNL board. “There are people in our community who have overcome significant barriers to contribute. They deserve community-wide recognition.”

That’s why DNL created the Ability Award, to be awarded to one nominee annually at a dress-up event.

The award is intended to reflect the goals of DNLs founding director, Ruth Stegeman, whose passion to build an accessible community which embraces peoples of all abilities still guides the small, nonprofit agency today.

The tenacious leadership qualities of the nominees never ceases to astound Chaney. Most share a life-long passion for advocating for people with disabilities.

Past Ability Award nominees are:

·         2011 -- Dan Wedge, who as director of the Allegan County Transportation Department helped create the county’s public transportation system, which provides transportation for the disabled, seniors and others. Wege has used a wheelchair since he lost use of his legs in a car accident.

·         2012 – Louise Schumaker, who created the Disability Services Department at Hope College in 1987, the same year she graduated from the college and three years before the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated the services. Schumaker has been advocating for people with disabilities on campus and in the Holland community ever since. Schumaker was born blind.

·         2013 -- Donna Bunce, executive director and founder of Compassionate Heart Ministry, an after-school drop-in center that provides young adults with mild to moderate cognitive impairments opportunities for recreation and socialization. Bunce has a son on the autism spectrum.

·         2014 -- Helen Brownson, who taught special education at Holland High School and later advocated for students with special needs as a district administrator. Two of Brownson’s four sons had disabilities. She and husband Bill wrote a book about their family’s experience titled “Billy & Dave: From Brokenness to Blessedness.” She continues to advocate for the disabled despite formidable physical challenges of her own.

A call for nominees who live or work in Ottawa or Allegan counties goes out to the community each summer. Criterion includes leadership, advocacy, engagement and empowerment.

A selection committee interviews nominees personally to verify information in the nominating letter. All nominees are recognized as “champions” during the Ability Award event.

The winner is presented with an etched crystal trophy.

In 2014, a scholarship to attend the nine-month training program Leadership Holland was announced in connection with the Ability Award. Participation will promote awareness of DNL and the goal of inclusiveness in the community, Chaney said.

Reserving an accessible hotel room should be easier now!

We’re putting a bow on another summer -- the season synonymous with sunshine and vacation.

It’s uplifting to break with routine, see fresh sights, and relax.

But the logistics of traveling can be daunting for people with physical disabilities, even when they stop for the night. Many have to be concerned whether their hotel will be accessible enough.

Sometimes guestrooms are listed as being “accessible” when they are not fully accessible for people with particular disabilities.

Most hotel chains have a central booking agency staffed with representatives who are delighted to reserve you an “accessible room,” but might be hard-pressed to explain what makes it accessible.

Usually accessible means wider doorways, a high toilet with grab bars to help a person using a wheelchair transfer, and a shower you can roll into with a waterproof chair on wheels.

Information on accessibility features at call centers is increasing thanks to Americans with Disabilities Title III requirements, which went into effect March 15, 2012.

But travelers who require specific amenities are still advised to phone the hotel directly and quiz the front desk clerk, not just all an 800 number.

“We do sometimes carry a slide-in seat for a tub in the event that 's what we get,” Tom Bird said. “Most hotels do not have specific hardware to meet our needs, so we travel heavily equipped.”

Since accessible rooms usually have one bed without guardrails, the Birds slide Dany’s bed against one wall and line the opposite side with chairs to prevent a roll-off.

They have not done a family trip since ADA requirements that require central booking agencies to provide more information on accessibility features went into effect.

In the past, it has been difficult to find the type of accommodations they as attendants need – a room that adjoins one that is handicap accessible. 

Dany goes to bed at 8:30 p.m. In an adjoining room, Tom and Rita can watch primetime TV without disturbing Dany.

Some hotels put accessible rooms on the upper floors, but the Birds prefer to stay on the ground floor, if possible. In the event of a fire, elevators shut down, making it very difficult for anyone in a wheelchair to exit, Tom said.

The new ADA regulations require all establishments that provide transient lodging to use the same process for booking all guestrooms. If the establishment uses a centralized or online booking system, that system must display a detailed description of the accessible facilities.

The new regulations also require hotels to hold accessible guest rooms for people with disabilities until all other guest rooms of that type have been reserved. The custom of assigning rooms upon check-in and subject to availability is no longer lawful if it would mean disabled guest’s reservation of accessible room would not be honored.

Previously, guaranteed reservations by people with disabilities were sometimes given to earlier-arriving people without disabilities. Often no other accessible room remained and the person with the disability was stranded.

The accessible travel market is a $13.6 billion market and one of the fastest growing tourism niches today, according to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).

“… With estimates of one Baby Boomer turning 65 every eight seconds, it’s a market that will continue to see significant expansion, “ said Tony Gonchar, Chief Executive Officer of ASTA, in a 2011 press release.