photo of a man in a wheelchairTampa has long been a city that’s highly accessible to individuals with disabilities, making it a prime location for the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games. And much of that accessibility is due in large part to the work of Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Tampa Mayor’s Alliance for People with Disabilities.
Started in the 1986 by members of the Tampa community, the Mayor’s Alliance was the first in the state of Florida, said Ben Ritter, vice chair of the council and a former employee of Paralyzed Veterans of America for more than 16 years.
Ritter, who joined the alliance as vice chair in 1997, says the alliance has been active in everything from increasing handicapped parking spaces across the city to helping restaurants, hotels and other businesses become more accessible to persons with disabilities.
In 1997, when the city was working to turn a 1956 bridge between Tampa and St. Petersburg into a hiking and biking trail, it turned to the Mayor’s Alliance, which then enlisted Paralyzed Veterans’ architects to help determine how to make the bridge wheelchair accessible, Ritter said.
The alliance, along with Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Gulf Coast Chapter, in 2010 also initiated an effort to require gas stations to place phone numbers on gas pumps so that individuals with disabilities would no longer have to honk their horns to ask for assistance. In 2011, Hillsborough County became the first in Florida to require the phone numbers, and later, six other counties followed suit.
“We’re working on making the phone numbers a state statute in Florida,” Ritter said.
The alliance also publishes an Accessible Tampa Guide that provides disability-related information on services, resources, attractions, transportation and accessibility for those living in or visiting Tampa.
The hard work of the alliance and Paralyzed Veterans will stand out this weekend, when more than 600 athletes arrive in Tampa for the 33rd annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Ritter said the Mayor’s Alliance several months ago started alerting local business owners about the Games and educating them about how to serve and accommodate the wheelchair athletes arriving en masse.
“Tampa already is a very wheelchair-accessible city,” Ritter said, “and the areas where most of the events are taking place – the convention center, the Tampa Bay Forum and the Marriot and Embassy Suites hotels – all are just two blocks from each other and pretty accessible to individuals with disabilities.”
Learn more about the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.