TEMPE, AZ — Reconnaissance missions at the park are second nature to Kaitlyn Verfuerth because she often needs to figure out what obstacles stand between her wheelchair and where she needs to go.
"It's frustrating when you pull up somewhere and you get all your equipment out and then you're like, 'dang, I can't get up that curb,'" she told ABC15.
In Verfuerth's line of work, that happens a lot. She's a recreational therapist who teaches students with disabilities to gain independence through athletics.
"It's pretty life changing stuff. What we get to do I feel very blessed," she said.
Another reason it's so important to her that everywhere has access for everyone.
"How can we make it easy for everybody? Not just someone with a disability," Verfuerth said.
Nanette Odell, ADA Compliance Coordinator with the City of Tempe says that is the idea of universal design.
"Making it accessible, adaptable for as many people as possible," she told ABC15.
Over the past several years she and a team of engineers have gathered data on every major intersection, sidewalk, bus stop, and city facility to evaluate how to make them more accessible.
The project is part of the Americans with Disabilities Act transition plan that the US Department of Justice requires of every government agency to get public facilities up to current ADA standards.
"The transition plan says this is how we get from where we are to where we need to be," Odell said.
The process has been going on since 2014 with the gathering of data from every city park, major intersection, sidewalk, bus stop, and public facility to evaluate how to make them more accessible.
"You're looking at everything from parking spaces to entryways to entrances themselves, ramps or stairs, potentially elevators, and then you're looking at everything from countertops to restrooms," she said.
Researchers with the Great Lakes ADA Center at the University of Illinois-Chicago surveyed transition plans around the country and found that Tempe's is one of the best.
"What was great is that it was a team effort of those coordinators with a disability background and the engineering staff in that city," lead researcher Yochai Eisenberg said about Tempe's plan.
Odell said Tempe spent months getting input from people with disabilities about what would be helpful to them and which are of the highest priority. She said modifications at parks were at the top of the list.
"Tempe also did a really neat job with using technology through maps and engaging people," Eisenberg said.
The city developed an interactive map with pictures, explanations definitions, and updates on the locations where work is being done.
"The whole goal of the map is to really provide context about where things were evaluated, and then what's happening close to you," said map creator Stephanie Deitrick.
Hollis Park in Central Tempe is one place that has received updates of wheelchair-friendly surfaces and modified playground equipment.
The kind of accessibility that could allow Verfuerth to be able to take her students regardless of their disability.
"It's allowing all kids no matter what the ability to play," she said.