Opening parks to disabled Access: The National Park Service and two nonprofit groups seek to make Fort McHenry and other facilities more accessible. Among the innovations is a device that communicates with the blind.

October 03, 1997|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

The National Park Service and two nonprofit organizations signed a five-year agreement yesterday on improvements for the disabled at national parks in a ceremony at Fort McHenry.

Under the pact -- signed after the demonstration of a system designed to aid blind visitors to the park -- the National Center on Accessibility will help the park service find volunteers from the Telephone Pioneers of America to help the park service complete projects it deems necessary to help the disabled.

"Our goal is to assist the National Park Service in projects that they've identified that they might not be able to do as part of their regular budget," said Gary Robb, executive director of the National Center on Accessibility.

Fort McHenry Superintendent Kathryn D. Cook described the signing as like "a vow renewal," as the three organizations have had a series of semiformal agreements since 1991.

In six years, the agreements have brought about 150 improvement projects at 75 national parks, most recently at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, where trails were made easier to traverse by wheelchair.

Robert G. Stanton, director of the National Park Service, said the agreements were important as the agency tries to make the parks more accessible.

"For every citizen to enjoy the sweetness of American citizenship," Stanton said, "every citizen should have the privilege of visiting national parks."

As he issued his message of inclusiveness, he urged students from the Maryland School for the Blind to consider a career in the National Park Service.

The students were at the park to demonstrate an "FM loop system," developed by Vista Group International and installed by members of the Telephone Pioneers, which would tell the blind and near-blind where they were and describe what they cannot see.

FM radio signals from eight exhibits carry messages to wandlike receivers held by visitors. The signals lead from the statue of Maj. George Armistead outside the visitors center to the entrance of the fort and allow visitors to hear descriptions of the ,, exhibits as they hold the receiver.

Lisa Johnson, 18, a junior at the School for the Blind, said that although she appreciated improvements at the fort, more are needed.

"When we were in front of [an exhibit], it should have a Braille display," she said. "Other than that, I think it's very good for the visually impaired."

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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