For 21 years Kevin McGuire has made his mark by helping make major sports stadiums, arenas, ballparks and race- tracks more accessible.
Alas, he’s still one man.
“It’s 1,000 leaks in the dyke, and I have only ten fingers,” says the CEO of McGuire Associates in Massachusetts, an accessibility consultation firm with national reach.
But, he’s one man in an age of integrated communications that gives anyone the ability to turn a whisper into a shout heard around the world.
A good example of that power is people’s experiences at various businesses. Good and bad reviews get featured on Yahoo News after a post on Twitter, Facebook or Yelp and get lots of usually unexpected attention. Businesses are increasingly paying attention to the phenomenon. McGuire aims to make AbleRoad (ableroad.com) one of the sites they watch. “I want it to be a crowd-sourcing way to enforce the law and get businesses’ attention,” McGuire says. “Let (people with disabilities) start telling properties what’s wrong with their spaces. Believe me, if the voices get loud enough, they will respond.”
Hitting the Road
Similar to other business-rating sites, such as Yelp, AbleRoad gives users the ability to rate every kind of business from spas and restaurants to doctors and hospitals. It has the usual rating categories, but AbleRoad also gives users the chance to rate and comment about accessibility. Hypothetically, a review might look like this: “Food and service were great, but the bar was in an inaccessible loft overlooking the dining room. My date and I couldn’t get up there to enjoy the view, so we went elsewhere for drinks.”
McGuire says if enough people with disabilities get on and use AbleRoad, the hypothetical restaurant wouldn’t need a lawsuit to find the heart to make that loft accessible. It’d be moti- vated by watching dollars head elsewhere.
“I’m just tired of fighting,” McGuire says. “I’m just tired of it. People need to speak up.”
Getting an Early Start
McGuire was injured in a freak accident when he was quite young. “I was hit by a drunk driver in 1968 when I was 7,” he says. “He literally drove onto the yard where I was playing.” He entered a difficult world for a wheelchair-using lad.
“I was injured before (Americans with Disabilities Act), (Section) 504, and Rehabilita tion Act of ’73,” he offers. Local school officials wanted to place him into a special-education program that would have ended with a certificate of attendance, rather than a high school diploma.
McGuire’s opportunities for higher education suddenly had a titanic question mark behind them. “My parents fought that,” McGuire remarks. “They said I had a physical disability, not a mental one.” Sometimes fighting city hall works, then and now. “I was mainstreamed,” he continues. “I was luck y that of the 18 elementar y schools that were in my area, there was a principal who let me in.” After high school, McGuire was off to Boston University, where he got a chance to learn from a man whose relentlessness to uphold what he believed in became the stuff of legends and controversy. “When I went to Boston Universit y, I worked for Senator (Edward Moore “Ted”) Kennedy,” McGuire says.
After graduating, McGuire went to Georgetown University to study law. He worked for another fabled political family, Rep. Hamilton Fish Jr. of New York. Fish, a moderate Republican, was counted among the strongest pro- ponents of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. “When the ADA came out, I knew they would need consultants,” McGuire comments.
From Arenas to Hollywood
McGuire started that often thankless gig in 1992. Then the big break came along. “(TD Garden): that was my first arena and that took me national,” he offers. TD Garden, in Boston, was the Shawmut Center. It became the FleetCenter, and later the TD Banknorth Garden. Locals just call it the Boston Garden, or The Garden.
Other arenas and stadiums on McGuire’s client list include the Staples Center in Los Angeles, legendary Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., and the friendly confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago. Among McGuire’s latest projects is a $300 million expansion at the Daytona Interna- tional Speedway in Florida. But sports venues aren’t the only ones that need consultants.
So did Hollywood, and McGuire is an actor. An Oliver Stone film in the works needed lots of wheelchair users for consultation and acting. “I was used in a movie called Born on the Fourth of July,” McGuire says. Tom Cruise starred in the 1989 autobiographical movie about Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic. McGuire’s role was originally going to be a large one. However, as the screenplay was revised largely due to changes in Kovic’s life, it shrank. Additionally, McGuire worked as a consultant on the 1997 science-fiction film Gat- taca. He helped teach Jude Law how to portray wheelchair user Jerome Eugene Morrow. “The nice thing about that was I got to kiss Uma Thurman about 15 times,” McGuire boasts.
Acting transformed into another project for McGuire — producing videos for companies to train their employees how to make shopping, eating and traveling more enjoyable for people with a wide range of disabilities. He’s quite proud of his latest offering.
“If you have one insensitive comment made by a front-line person, it doesn’t mat- ter what you did before,” he says. “It’s a kick (expletive) video; it’s really, really good.” McGuire says the 21 years he’s been a professional disabilities advocate and accessibility consultant have left him largely disheartened. “I’m still grappling with architects and builders to do what they have to do for acces- sibility,” he comments. McGuire is hopeful AbleRoad will give others a chance to help the cause.