Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Update on RCA's Accessibility Committee

This post by RCA President Colin Mills was originally published on Reston Patch.

Sometimes the headlines don’t tell the whole story.  Since RCA has gotten so much attention on planning-related issues the last few weeks, you might think that RCA is now working on the Master Plan and the Task Force exclusively. 

Not so!  We’re continuing to stay on top of a variety of Reston-related issues.  As an example, let me share the latest updates from Ken Fredgren’s hard-working Reston Accessibility Committee, as they continue their efforts to ensure that Reston’s commercial buildings are accessible for all Restonians.

As you know, I love to recognize people who are doing good work in the community.  The last time I wrote about RAC, we had just issued our 2013 Community Partner Awards, which honored individual Restonians who have helped RAC in its work and advocacy.  Last week, at a Rotary Club luncheon, Ken and I presented the 2013 Universal Access Leadership awards.  These awards recognize members of the business community who have distinguished themselves by making modifications to their premises, thus creating safe and comfortable access for all customers.

This year, RAC honored two longtime Reston institutions, Reston Hospital Center and South Lakes Village Center.  Both made significant changes to their properties this year, changes that made it a lot easier for people with disabilities to get to and from their facilities.  And both organizations distinguished themselves for their highly responsive and positive attitude in working with RAC and making the needed changes.

Reston Hospital Center really stood out for their proactive approach to accessibility.  As part of RAC’s accessibility forum last year, they recorded a video in which a Restonian who uses a wheelchair mentioned that she’d had trouble opening a bathroom door at the hospital. 

Incredibly, the staff at RHC took action before the video even aired!  They caught wind of the concern, and they immediately set about testing all of the hospital’s interior doors, and fixing the ones that were too hard to open.  This is a staff that cares!

If they had just done that, it would have been impressive.  But they weren’t finished.  RHC representatives then reached out to RAC to ask for suggestions on how to make the hospital more accessible.  This is the first time I know of that a property owner reached out to RAC to ask for assistance. 

RAC, working with RHC VP of Community & Government Relations Tracey White and COO Jane Raymond, performed an assessment of the property and produced some ideas for improvement.  And RHC made those changes.  The hospital now has more accessible parking spaces, access aisles, curb ramps, curb cuts, and crosswalks.  Some of the existing accessible spaces were relocated to provide a more accessible route to the hospital buildings.  They even moved their valet parking service to the main entrance to provide safer and more comfortable access for patients with disabilities.

After all that, RHC staff is still working with RAC to discuss some further ideas for making the hospital even more accessible.  Obviously, accessibility is paramount for a hospital, so it’s not surprising that they were willing to make changes.  But the staff’s proactive approach and responsiveness are admirable, and Ken reported that Tracey White and Jane Raymond, in particular, were a delight to work with.  Reston Hospital Center obviously devoted to serving its patients well.

The South Lakes Village Center project was initiated by RAC in response to citizen concerns about the access challenges at the center.  RAC surveyed the property and found several issues, most notably the accessible parking spaces that were located on steep slopes, making them virtually impossible for people with wheelchairs or chair lifts to use safely.

CBRE is the property management firm that administers the village center, and their representatives Meghan Connifey and Scott Russo worked with Ken to implement the improvements.   Meghan and Scott responded with impressive speed to RAC’s report.  RAC submitted its assessment to CBRE in May 2012; by January of this year, the changes were complete.  That’s a quick turnaround, especially considering all the changes they made.  Those included relocated of 3 APS and addition of 4 more, as well as a new curb ramp, 2 new detectable warnings, and 2 new crosswalks. 

RAC’s report also noted that one of the entrances to the South Lakes Giant had the universal symbol of accessibility on it, but the door was locked, thus making it completely inaccessible.  When I stopped by to check out the changes at the village center, I noticed that the locked door was gone, replaced by a new sliding door that is truly accessible.  Well done!

In addition to honoring the successes of the past, RAC continues to look forward in identifying new properties that can be made more accessible.  They will soon be issuing an assessment of Fox Mill Shopping Center, and they are also pursuing several other projects that I’ll talk more about in the coming weeks. 

In addition, Ken is still working in Richmond to implement changes to the state building codes to make it friendlier for people with disabilities.  I hope to be able to report on his success there soon.

If you’re curious about what RAC plans to do next, or if you’d just like to thank them for their tireless advocacy, you can stop by the Farmer’s Market at Lake Anne on Saturday, September 9th.  You’ll be able to meet some of RAC’s terrific volunteers, and maybe even become one yourself if you’re so inclined.

When a major issue like the Comprehensive Plan comes up, it’s tempting to let it take up all of your time; certainly it could.  But issues like accessibility, while they may not have the same sense of urgency, are just as important to the community.  I’m delighted that Ken and RAC are continuing their terrific work to make Reston more accessible.  RAC may not get a lot of headlines, but they’re performing a vital service to the community.

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