Bring a bungee cord
BEAVER CREEK – Coming to the Vail Valley in a wheelchair? Bring a bungee cord.Watching Sarah Will zip her wheelchair across the plaza in Beaver Creek, it’s easy to see why you’d need one, as Will stops from time to time to put her feet back on her chair’s footrests. “I always have to stop to put my feet back on,” she said. “A bungee cord will keep them in place.”Little bits of advice like that, as well as advice about how to dress for winter and how best to get around the valley, will show up on a Web site soon, courtesy of a new nonprofit group called AXS (read that “access”) Vail Valley.At last weekend’s antiques fair in Beaver Creek, Will went from the skating rink to the Centennial Express chairlift to demonstrate some of the roadblocks that are now in Beaver Creek.To start, someone in a wheelchair can only move around one side of the rink. There are stairs, but no ramps, on one side while the other takes a smooth path to an elevator.Will can easily ride escalators – a skill involving a wheelie and a firm grip on the escalator’s moving handrails – but she led a brief tour of the elevators and hallways needed to get from the rink to the chairlift.Some switches that run automatic doors – the big, square blue buttons that have a picture of a wheelchair – are far enough away from the doors to hit the switch, then wheel through with a load of equipment. Other switches, though, are too close to doors, requiring someone in a wheelchair to either put stuff down or have a partner lead the way and run the doors.It can add up to confusing or frustrating trips from a hotel to the slopes, or just about anywhere else.
The AXS Vail Valley Web site will include that information, and Will will also try to get more ramps, more convenient door buttons and other services for disabled people to the valley, she said.Will had already been working on projects like this, both alone and as a consultant. The new nonprofit group is the result of a partnership between Will and the Sakin family of New York and Beaver Creek.Arden Sakin, 12, who has been disabled since birth, is an avid skier. She has come to Beaver Creek for several years with her family – dad Craig, mom Sally and older sister Lauren. As Arden kept taking lessons with Will, the Sakins and Will got to know each other better, and discovered they shared a passion: to make the world, or at least part of it, easier for the disabled to navigate.”We want our daughter to be more independent,” Sally Sakin said. “Skiing is fine. But getting to the lifts, parking, restaurants and bathrooms can be hard. When you have difficulty using those facilities, it’s hard to be independent.”Both Will and Sakin believe there’s probably never been a better time to get things done for the disabled, with so much work going on in Vail and, to a lesser extent, Beaver Creek.”What we do now is for the long haul,” Will said. “We can think about things we haven’t thought of from accessibility to light pollution.”
And people with disabilities are a big source of potential business.”There’s something like 55 million travelers a year who have some sort of disability,” Sakin said. “And they spend about $1.7 billion a year. They go to places with reputations for being easily accessible, like cruises and the Disney resorts.”Those travelers are loyal customers, Sakin said, and will return to places that are easy in which to maneuver.To make those trips easier, the AXS Vail Valley Web site will soon provide as much information as possible to disabled travelers.Some of that information will be helpful hints such as what to wear, bringing a bungee cord, or the best way for a group with a disabled family member or friend to get around Beaver Creek or Vail.Beyond the information in Will’s head, a survey has also gone out to all the members of the Vail Valley Convention and Tourism Bureau. Information from those surveys will also go on the Web site.”Whether it’s positive or negative, I want to let people know what to expect,” Will said. “That takes a lot of worry out of a trip.”Will’s hoping for a big response from the survey. What she’s seen so far is that businesses and governments seem willing to help once they’re aware of problems.For instance, Will and others raised a ruckus about the new cobblestones in Vail Village, which gave people in wheelchairs, as well as kids in strollers, a teeth-chattering ride.A path down the middle of the streets in the village is much better than it once was, Will said. But a bungee cord is still a good idea.
While people in wheelchairs may be the most obvious users of the Web site, Will said it isn’t just for them.”What about people with oxygen?” Will said. “They need the shortest distance possible between places.”Besides those who are disabled now, more property owners and visitors will be less able to get around as they age, Will said. And, she added, there are now thousands of wounded war veterans coming home with one form of disability or another.There are also people like Arden Sakin, kids whose parents plan to move to the valley full-time in the not-too-distant future.For now, the Sakins are handling the fund-raising for AXS Vail Valley privately, through their own friends and contacts.”We want to be seen as an ally, as being out there as a resource,” Sakin said. “We don’t want to come into the valley asking for money.”At this point we have five years of commitments,” Sakin added. “Maybe after that we’ll start fund-raising.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado