Colorado mobility nonprofit takes annual steps to observe ADA anniversary
July 25, 2017
The Americans with Disabilities Act turns 27 today and a Denver-based nonprofit is working to ensure the landmark law isn't forgotten, no matter the obstacles or terrain laid out before supporters.
To celebrate the milestone, the Range of Motion Project, or ROMP, coordinated its third-annual trek up some of the state's 14,000-foot peaks. The "Climb with ROMP" campaign is built around fundraising through sponsorships and donations to send prostheses and care surrounding artificial limbs to developing countries — a primary mission of the organization founded in 2005.
Expanding many of the protections based on race, religion, sex and national origin first established through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA expanded the prohibition of discrimination to those with physical and mental disability. In 1990, President H. W. Bush signed the legislation compelling employers to provide reasonable accommodations for such employees, as well as requiring accessibility to most public spaces.
Because the craggy mountains of Colorado aren't necessarily where you might expect to find those exhibiting a physical disability, ROMP's mission is to spread the word to those there who might take ambulatory activities for granted. A show of force among a mix of both those with a disability and organization members who simply rep the cause for the greater good goes a long way, one step at a time up the hill.
Early this past Saturday, two groups donning ROMP gear summited Grays and Torreys peaks on the border of Summit County, followed by another crew hiking up Mount Sherman in neighboring Park County the next morning. Aside from accepting pledges for the activity and getting a little exercise in the process, the goal is really creating awareness.
"The group was strong, and a couple women there had never done a 14er, so it was great to see their excitement and we got to share a lot and caught the attention of other climbers by wearing our ROMP hats and shirts," said Sandy Dukat, an above-knee amputee who acted as a Grays and Torreys team leader. "It helps to place value on a community that's often overlooked, especially those living in developing community who are amputees."
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The 45-year-old Denver resident is a former two-time Paralympian skier after being born with a physical malady that eventually forced surgery to remove most of her right leg as a child. Desiring to be just like her athletic, able-bodied siblings, Dukat didn't let the challenge get in the way and took to swimming despite her disadvantage.
After moving to Chicago in her 20s, she discovered the world of adaptive sports and eventually transitioned to the sport of ski racing, reaching the level of a United States national team Paralympian. In Salt Lake City in 2002 she won bronze medals as a standing slalom and super-G competitor and followed it up four years later with another bronze in slalom in Turin, Italy.
She knows firsthand about the barriers that can exist for those with a physical impediment, and today spends time as a board member with ROMP to aid others worldwide in overcoming them. The annual climbing events in honor of the ADA law, and which includes additional hiking opportunities this summer — the Manitou Springs Incline this Thursday and two others at Winter Park in August — are another step forward for the population of amputees.
"With all of us in number, representing those who are overlooked and underserved, the fundraising and sheer numbers of respect we get out there show that we care what's happening and we're out there for them," said Dukat. "For me it's a representation of a larger community who are reaching their personal summits as they receive prosthetics, and it may be that they're just getting their first leg, but they're wrapped up in that larger community."
ROMP estimates 80 percent of the world's amputees live in developing countries, yet fewer than 3 percent have adequate access to prosthetic care. Through efforts like the now-yearly hiking campaign, the organization has helped provide more than 3,000 custom prosthetics and orthotic devices, as well as education, in Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico, Haiti and Pakistan, as well as within the United States.
When the Climb with ROMP program began in 2015, the organization was able to raise $15,000 from donors and elevate that total to $23,000 the next year. But already in 2017, the pledge drive has surpassed its goal by raising more than $67,000, to deliver 128 prosthetic limbs to those in need.
"So there's been huge, huge growth," said Lizzy Neufeld, ROMP's vice president of strategy, noting the organization has also added hikes in these underserved nations where it keeps headquarters, too. "And it's coming full circle now and creating mobility opportunities for those individuals, and through awareness producing opportunities to be able to receive prosthetic devices for fellow individuals in their country."
The majority of registered participants in the program are from Colorado, and the achievements just keep stacking up — now up to 40 total climbs just this year around the globe on all seven continents, and within 13 different countries. Step after step, the targets are even greater in 2018, with ROMP hoping to offer a climb in every state in the U.S., in 25 other countries, and at least five of those in the developing countries where deficiencies exist in prosthetic care.
For more information about the Range of Motion Project, visit: RompGlobal.org