The Observer

RCA Committee Works to Improve Accessibility

By Leslie Perales, Observer Staff Writer

October 10 , 2008

In less than a year, the Reston Accessibility Committee has already achieved some success in making the lives of people with disabilities easier. The committee was started by the Reston Citizens Association in January, and it aims to help create barrier-free access for those with mobility impairments.

“I’m a person with a mobility impairment myself, and there are little things and sometimes big things around Reston that would be great to have improvements on,” said Marion Stillson, RCA president and one of the group’s founders. Stillson said she tried to set up an accessibility group a couple years ago, but it had not come together until now.

The committee’s first success was the installation of new ramps at the Sunrise Valley Center in Reston, according to Ken Fredgren, who heads the committee. The center, which is owned by Tetra Partnerships, had two sidewalk ramps that were very steep and caused difficulties for people with disabilities.

Tetra representative Elvin Capestany Jr. said he was skeptical when Fredgren first brought his concerns to the company. But after Fredgren and Stillson demonstrated the problems to him, he understood the issue, he said. “They proceeded to show me what I thought was a normal ramp entry was an obstacle that I didn’t even see,” Capestany said. He said Tetra wanted to make sure their customers had access to the buildings, so they resolved the issue by installing ramps with a more gradual incline.

Capestany said he was pleased with the results and appreciated that the committee brought their attention to the issue, especially since the committee’s recommendations have helped other people with disabilities. If Fredgren and the committee had not notified Tetra of the difficulties with the ramp, “we wouldn’t have known,” Capestany said. At the Reston Rotary Club meeting on Wednesday, the committee honored Tetra with a Universal Access Leadership Award.

Fredgren said the Reston Accessibility Committee’s next task is to survey area gas stations about the accessibility of the station’s restrooms, pumps, shopping aisles and other areas. “Once the consciousness has been raised, some of them might be willing to hear our suggestions about possible improvements,” Stillson said.
Jennifer TownsAnother accessibility improvement was made after Stillson attended the grand re-opening of American Tap Room. She said she went into the restroom to check her hair and noticed that none of the restaurants’ mirrors was low enough for her to see. So she talked to the restaurant’s new owner Warren Thompson about the situation, and he had a full-length mirror installed in the bathroom. The committee also honored Thompson Hospitality for its actions.

Fredgren said he hopes other businesses are as open to making changes. “Tetra Management Services was so open—it’s almost like they embraced the idea,” he said. Stillson also said the committee hopes to spread knowledge about the everyday difficulties faced by people with disabilities.

The group’s impact will benefit many residents and will help people with disabilities become more independent, Fredgren said. “There are two things that I think are essential—one is independence and the other is self esteem,” he said.