State tourism embraces accessibility in a new marketing campaign, and the star is a four-time Paralympic athlete. Matt Scott, a 2016 gold medalist in wheelchair basketball, talks up why and where he returns to the Badger State for annual summer vacations.
“A million ways to have fun and no reason not to” is the slogan. Scott, a Michigan native, was born with spina bifida and got to know us while attending the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
The U.S. Census Bureau says one of five of us live with a disability, and the total is expected to grow to one in four by 2030, as baby boomers age.
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits the discrimination of people with disabilities in work, public services, public accommodations and telecommunications. Reasonable accommodations – such as elevators and ramps – are business as usual, but sometimes destinations and projects go way above and beyond the law’s minimum requirements.
A beach wheelchair, for example, can be maneuvered over sand and taken into water because of chubby, inflatable tires. At least one is available at each of these state parks: Big Bay, La Pointe; Buckhorn, Necedah; Harrington Beach, Belgium; Kohler-Andrae, Sheboygan; and Whitefish Dunes, Sturgeon Bay.
We’re doing much more elsewhere too.
American Players Theatre, Spring Green: In a natural, outdoor amphitheater is a popular theater whose summer performances include Shakespeare classics. A major renovation in 2017 included the addition of an induction loop system, to assist the hearing impaired. A shuttle bus transports people who don’t take the one-quarter-mile hike uphill to seating. Braille playbills are available, with advance notice. Ticket sales begin April 16. americanplayers.org, 608-588-2361
Dream Playground, Petzke Park, 3100 14th Ave., Kenosha: Count high-back swings, side-by-side swings, bird-nest swings and a key-activated wheelchair swing among the unusual features of this all-adaptive play area that opened in 2015. A merry-go-round is wheelchair accessible. Add braille and sign-language, plus reminders of where you are: a mini Rambler, lighthouses, ships and storefronts.
Fishing Has No Boundaries, multiple locations: A Hayward-based initiative helps people who would not otherwise be able to take a boat ride and fish. Volunteers lend their boats, fishing skills and time on designated dates. The project began in the 1980s and now has 24 chapters in 13 states. That includes seven Wisconsin chapters (Chippewa Valley, Eagle River, Fond du Lac, Hayward, Madison, Milwaukee and St. Croix Valley). fhnbinc.org, 715-634-3185
Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway, Green Bay to Prairie du Chien: Two of the state’s best-known rivers – with a portage of 2,700 paces between them – cut across Wisconsin. This project is a celebration of river heritage and access. The first phase, in progress, aims to install at least 21 water landings, all accessible to people with disabilities. Each will have a wheelchair-height bench seat, dual handrails to make it easier to board watercraft and rollers to slide a kayak or canoe into and out of water. heritageparkway.org
Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau: Guided exhibit tours turn into a multisensory experience for the blind and visually impaired because of the Art Beyond Sight program, which ends with the participant making art. Monthly programs for people with early to mid-stage memory loss, accompanied by a friend or relative, are called Spark because they are designed to spark conversation. lywam.org
Minocqua Winter Park: Instructors offer free lessons on adaptive equipment for cross-country skiing, and rental of the equipment (which allows a person to sit while skiing) is free. That makes this town park and its 50 miles of trails an official Central Cross-Country Ski Association Opportunity Center. It’s also a place to think big: Training and competition for skiers with physical disabilities happens all year. minocquawinterpark.org
Possibility Playground, 510 N. Lake St., Port Washington: On a bluff that overlooks Lake Michigan is a play area, the size of a football field, that began with a special education teacher’s brainstorming. Equipment and surfaces address mobility and other issues. A rubbery walking surface lessens the impact of falls. Some playground equipment is designed to improve balance and strength.
SEAS Adaptive Sailing, Sheboygan: The nonprofit Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan finds ways to make this type of boating affordable and accessible to people with physical or cognitive challenges. Sailboats are adapted to address impairments as severe as ALS: That includes appropriate seating, even when a boat moves through water at an angle. seasheboygan.org, 920-783-3673
SEWASP, East Troy: The nonprofit Southeastern Wisconsin Adaptive Ski Program uses modified equipment to teach alpine skiing and snowboarding to people with disabilities that affect physical mobility, cognitive ability, visual or hearing impairments. Lessons from volunteers typically happen at Alpine Valley Ski Resort on Thursday nights, January to mid-March. sewasp.org
Sunset Pines Resort, Willard: On 80 acres in Clark County are three cabins, each two bedrooms, designed by a quadriplegic who used an electric wheelchair. They look back-woodsy but contain modern amenities. Also on the property: groomed nature trails through woods and a stocked, 4.5-acre, private lake with pier fishing and beach. Next to 133,000 acres of public hunting land. sunsetpinesresort.com, 715-937-5109
Do you know of other tourism destinations that go above and beyond the meet the needs of travelers with disabilities? Please let me know via email or snail mail.