You’re Going Where on Your Vacation?

In this day and age of de-institutionalization, many developmental centers are going the way of the dinosaur. They’re closing up shop, because they simply aren’t needed any more, as former residents are being moved into less restrictive environments. And that’s a very good thing, as far as disabled advocates are concerned. But what do you do with those old facilities? Board them up? Tear them down? Just let them sit and hope for the best?

Well, in the case of the Syracuse Developmental Center, none of the above. In fact, the Empire State Development Corporation plans to sell that facility to Syracuse Resort (a limited partnership) who in turn plans to turn it in to a “resort for the disabled.”

Yes, you read that right — these folks are actually turning a former institution into a resort for the disabled.

I can just hear the conversation now.
Me: So where are you going on your vacation, Joe?
Joe: We’re going upstate to an institution.
Me: Oh, I see.
Joe: You know, that place is Syracuse where Pete was locked up for four years?
Me: Yeah, right. Well, er, have a good time.

OK, you get the drift. But aside from the obvious PR problems with it all, there’s a bigger issue with the whole grand plan. The developer plans to make it a “disabled only” resort. Yes, that’s right folks, in this day and age of mainstreaming and inclusion, they want to move backwards and segregate PWDs once again.

And that’s a fact that’s not lost on many locals. As one woman put it, “When we go out on vacation, or to any recreational activity, I don’t limit myself to a site that caters to my disability. I look for accessibility, but I look for a site that is inclusive for everyone.”

And she’s not alone. Not by a long shot. That’s one thing Simon Darcy discovered in his groundbreaking “Access to Anxiety” survey. He debunked the popular myth that people with disabilities like to travel in groups with other people with disabilities, when he reported that 80-90% of his disabled respondents reported traveling with one able-bodied friend, family member or companion.

And to be honest, this whole “disabled only resort” concept has been tried before here in the US (several times) and it really hasn’t worked. In the end there were always funding issues.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problems with someone making a resort barrier-free; in fact I encourage that. But everyone should be welcome, and access should just be another one of the amenities offered – like internet access or the free breakfast buffet. When you advertise a resort as being “for the disabled” it reeks of segregation, especially when the former incarnation of that facility was exactly that – a place where disabled people were segregated.

So if the folks at Syracuse Resort are reading this – reconsider your approach. Sure, go ahead and use the principles of universal design to make sure your new resort is barrier-free; but market it to everybody. In the end, that will be the more successful approach; as you will be able to address a wider market to pay the bills, yet still offer access features to those folks who need them.

Food for thought.