HarborLAB volunteers Dylan Geil and Thomas Dieter generously took time out from the mad rush of their nuptial preparations to conduct a kayak tour for the deaf community on Saturday. The two Hunters Point South residents are to be wed on August 28! Such kindness comes naturally to them, as they’ve both chosen careers in service to others. Dylan is an American Sign Language interpreter and Thomas directs the CUNY Start academic preparation program at LaGuardia Community College.
This special tour is just the start of another aspect of HarborLAB’s happily growing work for inclusion. We already have a proven commitment to serving communities from underrepresented cultures in our harbor and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) studies and our Instruction for Inclusion program sponsored by TF Cornerstone will expand on that. We are additionally pursuing our ParaHarbor (para = Paddling and Rowing Access) vision of adaptive boating to include people with a great range of abilities in the educational and recreational benefits of time on the water. Our first major goal is to ensure that the new boathouse slated to be part of the Hunters Point South development will be fully and seamlessly inclusive of wheelchair users.
“The Deaf Community Paddle demonstrates HarborLAB’s commitment to be an accessible and inclusive organization. Having an ADA compliant boathouse at Hunters Point South would grant New Yorker’s with physical disabilities access to the waterways,” said Dylan. For Dylan and Thomas, this kayak tour reflects their love. “Thomas and I are getting married next weekend! When I first met Thomas, almost 6 years ago, he didn’t know a lick of American Sign Language. Now he holds his own with our friends! This paddle is just one example of how Thomas and I have grown together throughout our relationship,” said Dylan.
Saturday’s trip received wonderful coverage from NY1 News and we’ll continue to invite the press to be part of our education and advocacy work for inclusion.
NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCDEC) issued a request for proposals for Hunters Point South parcels F and G that includes a boathouse. Responses are due September 4, 2016. Hunters Point South Park’s expansion has a boat launch mapped in near 2nd Street in LIC, the eastern end of the Hunters Point South affordable housing development.
HarborLAB has shared with a host of agencies and developers bidding to build on the site that the Hunters Point South boathouse will be a unique opportunity to create a boating and paddleboard experience for wheelchair users that’s seamlessly accessible, “from the river to the room.” We’re happy to report that the NYCDEC informed us that thanks to our queries, the NYCEDC, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, NYC Parks, and soon Housing, Preservation, and Development are discussing how to make this happen.
To be clear, this premier Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, fully accessible Hunters Point South boathouse would include a wheelchair-friendly slope from the water to the boathouse; accessible bathrooms and shower; accessible community space (for desktop laboratory equipment, lectures, etc.); and devices/infrastructure as might be needed to aid in boarding and exiting boats for unmatched service.
HarborLAB volunteers felt we needed to get all parties on the same page to ensure that the wheelchair user’s experience flows as naturally as the pedestrian’s. The NYCEDC thanked us for our advocacy to get that process moving. Some might recall that our founding volunteers, through their earlier affiliations, are the ones who proposed and successfully lobbied for the City to include a launch and boathouse in its plans, starting in 2004. HarborLAB is one of several groups hoping to activate the promised boathouse space, but regardless of who is chosen we view this process as an opportunity to fulfill our mission of inclusive access to our harbor and watershed.
“This week’s Deaf Community Paddle will be an excellent opportunity for us to further HarborLAB’s commitment to accessibility in its many forms,” Thomas said. “Having a permanent, ADA accessible boathouse in Hunters Point South would help make our commitment to accessibility all the more concrete. Our deaf community paddle symbolizes so much of what I love about what Dylan and I share in our relationship: nature, adventure, learning, friends, and service. We love being part of the HarborLAB family!”