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Alumnus Consults on Accessibility for Promenade, Dome and Arch Projects
While a student at Syracuse in the late 1980s, Danny Heumann ’91 quickly discovered the challenges of being on a campus in a wheelchair—hills, snow and limits on access to facilities.
Heumann, a television, radio and film management major with a minor in political science, learned how to be his own advocate and would meet with University officials to discuss accessibility.
He wanted to play racquetball in Flanagan Gymnasium, so the University had a special lift designed. He asked for a ramp to the Women’s Building and electronic doors at the Schine Student Center, and they were installed.
“Despite the weather and the trials and tribulations, I was trying to figure out my life and where I fit into this world, and it was all here in this able-bodied world of students,” Heumann says. “I was trying to be a student with a new disability on a college campus before the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA] in 1991.”
Today, Heumann is back on campus as an advocate for the entire Syracuse University community.
Heumann is a consultant with Campus Planning, Design and Construction, advising on provisions of the ADA and bringing insights on inclusive design into some of the University’s major construction and renovation projects this summer, including the University Promenade, the Arch complex and upgrades to the Dome, all of which are key components contained within the draft Campus Framework.
“What’s wonderful about being here is that Syracuse has given me so much in my life in terms of making me the person that I am today,” Heumann says. “I wanted to take my talents and motivation and inspiration and bring it back to my alma mater—especially when my alma mater wants to do everything in its power to be the most accessible, inclusive university in the country.”
Heumann had arrived on campus in 1986, a year after he was supposed to matriculate. A car accident the year before—just two weeks before he was supposed to start at Syracuse—left Heumann paralyzed from the chest down.
At the time, administrators, such as Barry L. Wells, currently a special assistant to Chancellor Kent Syverud, and Grace Severino, then director of the Parents Office, who had met him prior to his accident, assured his family his place was waiting at Syracuse when he was ready.
“I knew if I could overcome all the obstacles in front of me at Syracuse then I could do whatever I wanted to do when I graduated,” says Heumann, who went on to earn a law degree and is a motivational speaker.
While he advocated for access, other supporters on campus also worked on his behalf. Joseph Lore, then a Department of Recreation Services staff member who is now director, assisted students who put on events to benefit Heumann’s Fund for Spinal Cord Research.
In preparation for graduation, Heumann worked with a trainer for a year, walking on braces and crutches in the Carrier Dome to walk during Commencement. Pete Sala, who was part of the Dome staff then and is now vice president and chief facilities officer, encouraged him in his endeavors at the Dome.
And at the Newhouse Convocation and Commencement, Heumann achieved his goal. “It was my way to say thank you to the students and to all the administrators and faculty for everything they did for me,” says Heumann, who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., with his wife and daughter.
Heumann, who has worked on accessibility projects at other sports venues, is back on campus to ensure everyone has equal access and the opportunity to achieve their goals on the Syracuse University campus.
Q: What are some of the measures that will be done to make the University Promenade accessible?
A: The first thing is to make sure that the ingress and egress in terms of the slope meets the ADA requirements. The second thing is to ensure whatever tables and chairs that are put on the promenade are accessible. It’s very difficult sometimes for a wheelchair to comfortably fit around a round table with benches that are attached to the ground.
Q: How do you expect mobility and accessibility will be enhanced for all visitors to the Dome?
A: The University is going to improve the width and sightlines of all the accessible platforms. There will be additional platforms and there will be lower counters at the concession stands. Floor seating behind the baskets will also be made available to those with disabilities to purchase.
Throughout the Dome, there will be additional restrooms for women and family restrooms; every bathroom will be accessible. The first aid area will also be improved. Club 44 is going to be totally accessible and there’s going to be better viewing in the executive club, lowering the tables for people. All private suites are also going to be made ADA accessible. There will also be enhanced services for those with hearing or visual impairments.
Q: What sort of work will be done at the Arch complex (a new state-of-the-art student-focused health and wellness complex in a renovated Archbold Gymnasium)?
A: My role is to make sure—between the bathrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms, weight room facilities, cardiovascular facilities and new ADA elevator—that every nook and cranny of Archobld and Flanagan is meeting ADA standards. But also, more importantly, that they go beyond the ADA to make them the best they can be.
Q: What has it been like to return to campus to provide insights on this work?
A: I’m honored to be involved and I get to work with my friends like Pete Sala and Joe Lore. I have the Board of Trustees, the Chancellor and his leadership team to thank for this. We are going to make this campus one of the most incredible, beautiful campuses in the world.
I’ve been given an opportunity of a lifetime that I will cherish for the rest of my life. That’s how much being at Syracuse means to me.