He is the man with the answers to accessibility issues – yet McGuire spent more than 15 minutes watching two men tinker with the portable microphone before he could begin his speech on accommodating the disabled.
In a wheelchair since the age of 7 after being hit by a drunken driver, McGuire couldn’t reach the lectern microphone, which was designed to be used by someone standing. “People don’t think the different scenarios all the way through,” he said.
Though a simple matter of technical difficulties and not insensitivity, Monday’s incident at Mount Saint Mary College typified what McGuire has sought to bring about for almost 15 years: better accommodations for the disabled in a world geared for those who are able-bodied.
After the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted by Congress in 1990, McGuire, now 44, founded McGuire Associates Inc., a consulting firm that aims to help public and private institutions abide by the law.
One of the nation’s leading consultants on the ADA, he has worked on such big-name construction jobs and events as the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, the Boston Symphony Hall and last year’s Democratic National Convention.
Local clients have included the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, the Newburgh School District and the Town of New Windsor.
In addition, the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, prompted him to develop a Disabled Evacuation Plan after hearing stories about disabled people stuck in the towers, unable to get out.
The Newburgh native has offices in his hometown and in Waltham, Mass., but spends much of his time traveling and says he has racked up 2 million frequent-flier miles.
He encourages companies to plan ahead in order to meet the needs of people who will use a building. “Proactive solutions, not reactive responses,” is his company’s motto.
“It’s very helpful to have an expert on hand,” said Mark Primoff, director of communications at Bard College, “so you don’t find yourself in the situation of having to retrofit.”
Often times it’s more than just the law; it’s good business.
“They are employed, they are disabled and they have dollars to spend,” McGuire said. “And retailers are beginning to recognize that.”
“We spent a lot of money on our facility, and we wanted it to be the best in the industry,” said Brad Mayne, president and CEO of Center Operating Co., which built and manages the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Mayne hired McGuire as a consultant in addition to organizing an 11-member accessibility advisory committee. “We wanted to make sure we were accessible to anyone,” he said.
Doug Hovey, executive director of Independent Living Inc., a disability advocacy group in Newburgh, said it makes a profound statement when stadiums, arenas and theaters are accessible to everyone.
“All of these things define the human experience and help us to define our quality of life,” Hovey said.
“It’s more than just the law,” McGuire said. “Ninety percent of the ADA is sensitivity.” Kevin McGuire, founder, chairman and CEO of McGuire Associates Inc., knows a thing or two about starting a successful business. What’s the most important thing in starting a business? “It is really about the goal. My goal when I first started was to make the calls, send the letters. I really hustled. My advice to everyone when they’re getting into a business is set those goals; daily goals, not just weekly goals. When you set a goal you have to work hard to reach it.” How did you go about starting the business? “You have to look at the capital. How much money do you have and how can you stretch it? And then the next step is creating an entity and making you look bigger than you are. It’s not a matter of how many people work for you, it’s how you present yourself. No one knew when I first started that I was working out of an office building my dad owned, so it is important to create an image. My target was always the Fortune 500 companies, so my papers always look like something a Fortune 500 company would want to read.” How do you find a niche market? “It’s one thing to find a niche, it’s another to be qualified. You have to know the niche once you get into it. You have to go for something that you’re good at. I know I’m good at access issues.” McGuire’s speech Monday was one in a series of entrepreneurial lectures hosted by the business department at Mount Saint Mary College. The next speech in the series will be given by Dr. Lynda Klau, a clinical psychologist and executive coach, and is scheduled for Monday, April 4, at 7:30 p.m. in Aquinas Hall, room 234.