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National Park Service and Gateway Arch Park Foundation receive Open Door Award

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David and Rhonda

The Gateway Arch National Park and Gateway Arch Park Foundation were honored to receive the Open Door Award for Creating Inclusive Spaces from the Starkloff Disability Institute for, “extraordinary efforts to include universal design in the Gateway Arch Museum through collaboration with the St. Louis Universal Design Group.”

Founded in 2003 by Max and Colleen Starkloff and David Newburger, the Starkloff Disability Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities participate fully and equally in all aspects of society. Its annual Open Door Awards recognizes individuals, organizations, and initiatives that make a significant impact on the lives of people with disabilities.  

David Newburger, Commissioner on the Disabled and ADA Coordinator for the City of St. Louis, has been an incredible advocate for people with disabilities for decades. At the award ceremony on October 11, 2018, Newburger introduced Rhonda Schier, Chief of Museum Services and Interpretation at Gateway Arch National Park, to receive the award on behalf of the Gateway Arch National Park and Gateway Arch Park Foundation. Below is a transcript of his remarks.

David Newburger: Many years ago, my family and I drove from Columbus to St. Louis for my new job. As we approached the city, my then 3-year old looked out and saw the Arch. As an aficionado of Sesame Street, she let out a slow “O” – the letter “O” was rising in the horizon.

Well, the “O” landed. It became the Arch—the most iconic feature of St. Louis.

And, it became one of our favorite features. But, it was a tough place for a guy on crutches to access. Often, we would drive out-of-town guests around to give them a glimpse. Or we would drop them off for a brief visit. Going to the top was fun, but usually once you’d done it, you’d done it. The museum was OK, but they’d seen better.

Then, in 2010 many of the City’s leaders organized a new civic foundation, now under the name “Gateway Arch Park Foundation.” The foundation partnered with the National Park Service to turn the whole park – the grounds, the museum, the Old Courthouse, the water front, and, of course, the Arch itself – into a world class destination.

They needed designers. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates won the competition.

They needed technical advisors—historic preservation representatives, the Coast Guard and Corps of Engineers (it’s on the river, after all), Great Rivers Greenway, various City departments, Missouri Department of Transportation and other state agencies, and many more.

They needed a technical advisor for making sure that people with disabilities would always be welcome. Walter Metcalf – one of our great civic leaders – asked Mayor Slay who. Mayor Slay suggested the Commissioner on the Disabled. That was me.

It was wonderful to participate, but that was not enough. No one person knows about living with the vast array of disabilities. So, we agreed to gather a group of some 25 people with various impairments – seeing, hearing, walking, holding, learning, communicating, managing emotions, living in pain, etc. We call it the Universal Design Group. The group had the opportunity to review all designs that raised difficult access issues.

“Accessible,” you know, means you can have stairs, and I can have a ramp off to the side.

“Universal design” means everybody can go everywhere and have a chance understand everything and do it together with their family all at the same time. As the Park Service says in a new slogan, National Park Service – NPS – All In.

We now have an elegant entrance to the museum without steps - and even though we’re going underground.

We now have large type on cards next to many displays so that a person with low vision can read words that are behind glass.

We now have a sloping path where we can wheel or walk from the Arch legs to Lenore K Sullivan Boulevard and back.

We now have knee space and active parts of touch screens that allow smaller children and wheelchair users to reach and interact with the screen displays.

We now have 86 tactile replicas of items that allow the blind to “see” the thing displayed, for example, a stage coach, a peace medal, a Pirogue (that is, a kind of dug out canoe), a school bus at scale next to a model of the Arch so that person who cannot see can now absorb the enormity of the Arch.

We now have so many universal design features that no one will notice them all.

In recognition of this great achievement, it is my honor to award the Starkloff Disability Institute Open Door Award for Universal Design to the National Park Service and the Gateway Arch Park Foundation.

I now welcome my good friend, Rhonda Schier, Chief of Museum Services and Interpretation at the newly renamed Gateway Arch National Park to receive these awards.

Thank you Rhonda. Welcome.