Today (Wednesday, March 30) marks another milestone for Paraquad’s AccessibleSTL program. We hosted our second annual panel discussion featuring representatives from businesses and organizations like AT&T, Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch, The Muny and Regions. These panelists shared their strategies and best practices for including people with disabilities in their organizational culture.
I had no idea what to expect when I came to Paraquad two years ago to manage the AccessibleSTL program. When I started, I was handed every program developer’s dream all rolled up into a great concept, a fantastic name and three pieces of paper.
What we knew then
- We had a city we loved whose residents with disabilities couldn’t always access everything due to physical and attitudinal barriers.
- The program had the potential to educate and challenge businesses, organizations and government entities in the St. Louis area to become more inclusive for people with disabilities.
- The success of the program stemmed not only from the expertise we brought to the table but also in our ability to build and maintain relationships with program partners.
- We wanted to see where this idea would take us and we were up for the challenge.
What we did
For me, building a new program always starts with strategy, and this endeavor was no different. Before we could steamroll the program, we needed direction — and direction is what it got.
We started with building blocks that were already in place, creating a program that provides comprehensive Americans with Disabilities Act site surveys, training and education, policy review and development and technical assistance to businesses, organizations and government entities.
In March 2015, we introduced the program elements to the St. Louis community with representatives from more than 40 organizations in the room. We learned very quickly just what we had on our hands.
In the first six months of the program, we conducted several ADA surveys, trained more than 500 people on disability topics and provided technical assistance to many local organizations. We’ve worked with Ameren, Wells Fargo Advisors, the city of Clayton and The Muny. If I said I knew before the launch that the program would shoot off like a rocket, I would have been lying. It exceeded every expectation I could imagine.
What we know now
In the first year, we’ve learned a lot of fantastic lessons, including just how important our AccessibleSTL partners are to the program.
Many of our engaged partners were the drivers behind the topic of our most recent panel discussion: reasonable accommodations. The Muny, an organization we’ve had the privilege of working with over the past year, hosted the event.
I mentioned earlier that we knew going into this that building relationships would be paramount to the success of the program, and we weren’t wrong. As we move the needle forward, we know that the needs of our current and future partners will continue to challenge us to strategize and adapt.
Only by working hand in hand with AccessibleSTL partners can we create a more accessible community for everyone. And this is the beauty — and the challenge — that is AccessibleSTL.
Christy Herzing is the Community Access Coordinator at Paraquad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.