Vail looks to be more disability friendly |

Vail looks to be more disability friendly

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado ” Vail and other mountain communities can be much more accessible to disabled residents and visitors if builders and planners are aware of the obstacles , said Sarah Will, executive director of the nonprofit AXS Vail Valley.

Will was one of several experts who spoke to planners, building inspectors and architects from Vail, the valley and surrounding counties about designing towns, ski villages and buildings that are easier for people with disabilities to access.

Especially for resort destinations, making sure those visitors have good experiences help ensure that they will come back again, Will said.

“If people have a bad enough experience, they just won’t come back,” she said. “But if you create a place they can come, they’re willing to come back, and they’re willing to come spend money.”

Vail is already in pretty good shape as far as being accessible, said Martin Haeberle, chief building official for the town of Vail.

The problem lies with many older buildings that were constructed before there were guidelines. The goal is for those buildings to get up to speed as they are renovated, he said.

Will said that while Vail can always improve, the town already is a leader in being accessible.

“Vail is one of the most accommodating mountains in the world,” said Will, a much-decorated former member of the U.S. Disabled Olympic Team.

For example, Vail has added more handicap parking spaces, making it easier for disabled skiers to get on the mountain or into the villages, and the resort has wheelchairs kept at different locations in the village that visitors can use.

The village’s walkways, mostly lined with bumpy cobblestones, were redesigned so that the middle strip has smooth stones, creating an easy path for people in wheelchairs or crutches, she said.

Many people think of disability access as big-ticket improvements, such as installing elevators and building ramps, Haeberle said.

However, even simple solutions such as posting signs indicating handicap access or shortening rails are big improvements.

“For someone with a disability, it takes a lot of extra energy to get from point A to B,” he said. “Reducing that distance goes a long way.”

New federal guidelines will soon make designing accessible buildings easier for architects, said Rob Gilkerson, an architectural information specialist with the American with Disabilities Act Center.

Previously the federal and international guidelines were different or even conflicting, causing confusion for architects and building inspectors.

Often, people put in handicap features with good intentions, but fall short of being helpful ” something the experts said can be prevented with awareness.

For example, some showers and bathrooms might have support bars, but the bars are placed too far from the toilet or shower seat. Will said she remembered seeing a sign that included Braille translation ” but it was covered with Plexiglas.

“You’re the future of our community,” she told the audience. “You’re the people rebuilding the town. You can help build it right.”

For more information on disability access guidelines, see or

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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