The Virgin Island Daily News, Article By TANYA MANNES

ST. JOHN - As part of an islandwide initiative to make St. John a prime destination for travelers with disabilities, the public is invited to attend a panel discussion titled "Building a Destination for All 2005."

The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 29 at the Maho Bay Camps Dining Pavilion. Among the panelists will be inclusive design consultants, Virgin Islands officials and local hotel representatives.

The forum is the culmination of a yearlong project to make a St. John resort more user-friendly.

In October, a group of 15 students from the Rhode Island School of Design visited Estate Concordia, a resort on the south side of the island, and were faced with a challenging assignment - to update plans for the resort's common areas, including a pavilion, a restaurant and an art center, making them accessible to all guests, including those with disabilities. As part of their research, the students met with representatives of the V.I. government, V.I. National Park and local businesses.

The students were guided by Kat Darula, an RISD adjunct professor who is a consultant for the accessibility business Multi, Design for People.

Construction took place this year incorporating the students' plans, resulting in major changes, including wide doorways and walkways, large bathrooms with spacious shower stalls, and utilities within easy reach.

Now the improvements suggested by the student team are about to be put to the test.

Estate Concordia will play host from July 24-30 to a small group of visitors with a range of mobility disabilities who will offer their comments, concerns - and frank criticism - of the resort and speak about their ability to access its beaches and nature trails.

During the panel discussion, the travelers with disabilities will share their St. John vacation experiences.

The goal is to develop innovative strategies for accessibility that can be used at other properties. Guided by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, hotels and resorts nationwide are becoming increasingly sensitive to the needs of disabled, elderly and mobility-impaired travelers, such as pregnant women. The concept also makes good business sense: The Travel Industry Association of America says that disabled travelers spend $13.6 billion annually.

Multi, which is based in Rhode Island and Connecticut, is organizing this event in cooperation with eco-resort developer Stanley Selengut, who founded Maho Bay and Estate Concordia.

The July 29 forum is free. Invited speakers include St. John Administrator Julien Harley; Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen; Gov. Charles Turnbull; Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards; Senate President Lorraine Berry; Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards; V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association President Beverly Nicholson; Selengut; V.I. National Park Superintendent Art Frederick; Friends of the Park President Joe Kessler and many others. Lunch and transportation to Maho Bay from the Cruz Bay ferry dock at 9:20 a.m. will be provided.

The deadline to register is 5 p.m. Monday; contact Kat Darula at 401-935-2976 or send e-mail to kat@designforpeople.org.

- Contact Tanya Mannes at 774-8772 ext. 317 or e-mail tmannes@dailynews.vi.

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