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K-State Today

July 21, 2011

Push America visit highlights accessibility of Olathe campus

Submitted by Tyler Sharp

In the midst of a 4,000-mile trek across the country to raise money and awareness for people with disabilities, a team of cyclists on the Journey of Hope rolled into Olathe for a two-day rest. Along with City Hall and Kauffman Stadium, Kansas State University Olathe was one of the group’s stops.

“It’s great to have the opportunity to share with the upcoming movers and shakers; these young men are obviously going to be leaders,” Dan Richardson, K-State Olathe CEO, said of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity members who compose the Journey of Hope teams. “As a part of Kansas State University’s three-campus system, K-State Olathe gives Kansas State University a presence in the Kansas City area, and people who might have never made it to Manhattan to visit the main campus can come to K-State Olathe and leave with a bit more knowledge about us and we hope a lot more interest in what K-State’s about.”

Making places accessible for people with disabilities is a common interest of K-State Olathe and Push America, the parent organization of the Journey of Hope.

“I think it was a good fit, with us just having received the Community Accessibility Award for our building,” Richardson said. “Our efforts really complement each other. We’re proactively making accessible spaces, and they are volunteering and raising money to fix existing places so that they become more accessible. So it’s a really nice complement.”

As the first building of the K-State Olathe campus took shape on the drawing boards, Richardson wanted to make sure it would be accessible and welcoming for everyone, including people with disabilities. He and others working on the plans collaborated with the Olathe Persons with Disabilities Advisory Board to go beyond simply complying with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

When picking out colors for the walls, floors and furniture, the K-State Olathe staff chose contrasting hues to help those who are visually impaired. Podiums were designed to be wheelchair-accessible. Doorways and hallways are wider than usual, and family restrooms are available along with traditional ones. K-State Olathe also has been flexible in changing accessibility problems as they come up.

For example, the outside wall of the upper deck at K-State Olathe was originally going to be a solid material. But when a wheelchair user went onto the deck, she could not enjoy the view. This also meant that anyone who sat down on the patio furniture would not be able to see the lake and landscape below. To fix this problem, the panels below the railing were replaced with glass, making a better experience for everyone – especially those with disabilities – who uses the deck.

For its efforts, the city of Olathe awarded the newest K-State campus and its partners – DesignSense, 360 Architecture and Weitz Construction – the Community Accessibility Award.

Push America is an organization that along with raising money to make places more accessible promotes awareness of the “abilities of people with disabilities.”

“We like to stress that people come first; disability or ability comes after,” said Axel Holm, a crew member and public relations representative for the central route team on the Journey of Hope. “We try to spread the word to end the word. ‘Retarded’ is a word that we don’t use. ‘Disabled’ is just another way to bring somebody down. We like to say ‘people or person with a disability,’ so that’s just something we stress as Push America.”

Push America has long been the national philanthropy of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. Accordingly, the teams of cyclists, one for each of three cross-country routes, consist exclusively of men from chapters of Pi Kappa Phi across the country. This year alone, the Journey of Hope program will raise more than half a million dollars. To date, it has brought in $15 million.