.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Business & Economics

Volunteers improve Black Hills tourism experience for disabled locals, visitors

 Kelsey Stine is the founder of Accessible Black Hills
Accessible Black Hills
Kelsey Stine is the founder of Accessible Black Hills

The Americans with Disabilities Act is more than 30 years old but many businesses and tourist attractions remain inaccessible. That can make it tough for disabled people to know where they can easily visit.

Accessible Black Hills is a new volunteer organization that's trying to tackle these issues.

Kelsey Stine, who founded the group, used her power wheelchair to visit the Dahl Art Center in Rapid City last month.

A long, gradual ramp offers easy access. The entrance has a set of double doors with buttons to help open them.

Kelsey Stine uses a power wheelchair to travel through downtown Rapid City.
Michael Zimny
/
SDPB
Kelsey Stine uses a power wheelchair to travel through downtown Rapid City.

Stine got through the first set of doors but couldn't reach the button for the second set. She was able to open the second door with her hands but had to move quickly so it wouldn't close on her.

“The only problem for me is specifically, the second button is a little bit higher than I am," Stine said. "And I know all disabilities are different but that can be a deterrent if was alone. Although the second door was lighter so I could open it.”

Jeannie Larson is the Assistant Curator at the art center.

“I had never really thought about where the positioning on the handicap buttons were before," she said.

Larson said she’ll bring up the issue with museum leadership.

Stine recently started Accessible Black Hills, an organization that rates businesses and tourist attractions across the region.

Volunteers created a master list of local attractions and independent businesses. They then choose or are assigned places to visit.

The volunteers don’t call before their visits. But once they arrive, they ask for permission to rate and take notes on the layout.

The information is then uploaded to a website where they also post photos and reviews.

“So that people are not an afterthought with disabilities. Like it just seems like a normal tourism organization and it also happens to show all the accessible areas," Stine said.

The website can help locals, while providing insider knowledge to visitors.

Stine visited a Rapid City restaurant with no ramp in front of the building. That might make it seem inaccessible to first-time visitors.

"If you go to the side or the other side — which you might not right away — there are ramps into the building and then it is very wide concept, accessible bathrooms, just a full, really sweet place to stay," Stine said. "But you might not know approaching here right away.”

Accessible Black Hills also has information about businesses that don’t have permanent ramps but are happy to provide a portable version.

Once the website is complete, the organization will raise money to provide grants to places like the Dahl Art Center that want to become more accessible.

There are disabled travelers who blog about accessibility as they visit new places, according to Maria Town, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities. But she says there are few websites that provide comprehensive ratings from local residents.

“It seems like what Accessible Black Hills is doing is actually setting up the expectation that it will be sustained and become this widely used resource both locally and beyond, and I think that’s really unique and exciting," she said.

 Maria Town is president of the American Association of People with Disabilities.
American Association of People with Disabilities
Maria Town is president of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Town said the group is also unique since it wants to address one of the key shortfalls of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“One of the critiques of the ADA is that it was an unfunded mandate," she said.

Town says businesses can improve accessibility with the help of grants or tax credits.

Callie Tysdal, a volunteer with Accessible Black Hills, arrived at the Cave Collective last month with a checklist and measuring tape on hand

“So what I usually do with your permission is go around and take some pictures so we can promote, some other pictures for data collection procedures and then I go around and measure some things," she told co-founder Dexter Carmen.

Tysdal measured the width of doorways and height of sinks while noting the location of any ramps and handicap parking spaces.

Callie Tysdal measures the width of a door at the Cave Collective in Rapid City.
Michael Zimny
/
SDPB
Callie Tysdal measures the width of a door at the Cave Collective in Rapid City.

The Cave Collective — a music venue and community center — checked all the boxes except one. It doesn’t have a bathroom changing station for older kids and adults with disabilities.

The Cave Collective's former location had a stage that was two feet off the ground.

"We had a band come through where the lead singer was in a wheelchair and we were unable to accommodate that so we just ended up lifting the wheelchair onto the stage and it worked out OK but it wasn’t ideal," Carmen said.

The Cave Collective learned from that experience and built a new stage that’s only two inches off the ground. It’s also planning on adding a ramp.

Callie Tysdal explains to Dexter Carmen how the Accessible Black Hills rating process works. Carmen is co-owner of the Cave Collective in Rapid City.
Micahel Zimny
/
SDPB
Callie Tysdal explains to Dexter Carmen how the Accessible Black Hills rating process works. Carmen is co-owner of the Cave Collective in Rapid City.

Accessibility is an issue everyone should care about, not just those with permanent disabilities, Stine said. Many people will need accommodations at some point in their life, whether it’s due to injury or old age.

Making business and tourist attractions accessible is the right thing to do, Stine added. She says it's also a smart business move since it can help bring in more customers.

Accessible Black Hills has visited more than a dozen establishments. So far, each business has welcomed the rating and review process. The group also has the support of local tourism and economic development organizations.

Accessible Black Hills eventually plans to become a nonprofit. For now, it's partnering with a foundation so it can apply for grants. The group wants to hire someone to manage its rating process, website and future grant program.