PVA recognizes historic St. Louis museum for exceptional accessibility for people with disabilities

Post Date: June 4, 2019
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Karen M. Goering and Mackey Mitchell Architects to receive Annual Barrier-Free America Award for outstanding contributions to accessible design

Media Contact: Liz Deakin LizD@pva.org, 202-416-7627

WASHINGTON (June 4, 2019) — In honor of the innovative accessibility features at Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in St. Louis, Paralyzed Veterans of America is pleased to announce the winners of its 2019 Barrier-Free America Award — Karen M. Goering of Missouri Historical Society, and Mackey Mitchell Architects. Soldiers Memorial, an 81-year-old historical landmark, and its adjacent Court of Honor, dedicated in 1948, was recently renovated with the help of Ms. Goering and Mackey Mitchell Architects to create easy-to-navigate exhibits and increased access for all people with disabilities.

“It was a huge challenge to renovate this classical building, in an urban setting, into a contemporary museum that not only meets, but exceeds, ADA standards,” said Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Director of Architecture, Mark Lichter. “For us, inclusive design is a civil right. The Barrier-Free America Award is about recognizing the importance of accessibility for all. From a parent pushing a stroller, to someone using a walker, to a paralyzed veteran in a wheelchair, we all benefit when America is more accessible, and Paralyzed Veterans of America is here to help make that happen.”

A $30-million, two-year renovation project led by Karen M. Goering, managing director of administration and operations at Missouri Historical Society, brought Soldiers Memorial and Court of Honor into ADA compliance while maintaining its historical integrity. Dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a tribute to World War I veterans, Soldiers Memorial now has ramps, elevators and tactile exhibits so all visitors can share the experience together. The design by Mackey Mitchell Architects sensitively preserves the building’s unique art deco detailing while adding accessible features such as a pathway across Chestnut Street to the Court of Honor. A diverse group of disability advocates, including Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Gateway Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America in St. Louis, provided input and valuable insight for the accessible modifications.

“From the beginning, our team was passionate about ensuring that the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum be universally accessible. We wanted to make sure that the built environment as well as the exhibitions were accessible to all visitors,” said Missouri Historical Society’s Soldiers Memorial Renovation Project Manager, Karen Goering.  “For the first time, the new ramps make it possible for wheelchair bound veterans with wheelchairs to enter through the front entrance of the Memorial. This was very emotional for all of us that worked on the accessibility panel.  We also incorporated components such as touchable models of the Walker Hancock monumental sculptures, closed captioning on all videos, and 3D photographs of the USS St. Louis ships. It was critically important to us to go beyond ADA standards to ensure that our exhibits and programs engaged all visitors.”

There are 61 million Americans who report having a disability and the majority of those are mobility-related. As the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double in the next 40 years, the need for accessible design solutions in both public and private spaces is expected to grow.

“This project could not have been considered a success if, when completed, anyone was limited from its experience or denied dignity in its approach,” said Mackey Mitchell Architects’ Project Architect, Erik Biggs. “Universal accessibility can be hard to achieve in historic buildings, so we are incredibly proud to have Soldiers Memorial Military Museum recognized with PVA’s 2019 Barrier-Free America Award. It is certainly a high point of my career to know that this socially significant monument now provides a welcoming and accessible environment for every member of our community.”

Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only veterans’ service organization with on-staff architects who provide design assistance to veterans, including wheelchair accessible home plans, free of charge. With this unique design knowledge, Paralyzed Veterans of America architects have also helped develop accessible building standards across the U.S., and have advised on the designs of many public buildings including the Minnesota Vikings football stadium and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, making them more accessible and enjoyable for the public.

The Barrier-Free America Award is presented annually and recognizes exceptional public-access buildings and architects that incorporate accessible architectural design and demonstrate the importance of equal access. For more information on previous award winners, accessible design services for veterans and advocacy efforts for all people with disabilities, please visit pva.org.