Reprinted with permission of
The Herald Journal, Feb. 10, 2008

A Utah Conservation Corps program that employs individuals with disabilities was selected as the Corps Network's Project of the Year.

The Access to Service inclusive crew program, based at Utah State University, will receive the award Tuesday in Washington, DC.

It was one of the first programs to develop projects that include the disabled. Traditional UCC programs are physically demanding.

"We did not want to have members with disabilities sitting on the sidelines, while those without disabilities completed project tasks," says Kate Stephens, UCC program administrator.

Just one year old, the program was created after UCC crew leader Andy Zimmer was struck by a car and injured his spine.

Zimmer became a quadriplegic, but immediately began thinking of ways to return to the job.

The UCC team camae up with several inclusive projects and recruited four disabled team members to join the group of eight.

This summer, the crew completed surveys of eight campgrounds and two trails to determine how accessible they are to the disabled. They consulted with Wasatch-Cache National Forest on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and constructed two inclusive recreation areas-a fishing pier at Logan Canyon's Second Dam and a community demonstration garden on the USU campus.

"Inclusion is the overall philosophy," said Stephens.

Eventually, the Access to Service group wants to "create a ripple effect" and help other UCC groups create crews that serve those with disabilities.

"For the people with disabilities, this gave them a real sense of accomplishment," she said. "For those people without disabilities, it was mind-opening. It changed their attitudes toward people with disabilities and challenged some of the negative stereotypes."

Zimmer is a good role model, having recently reached his goal of completing the 1,700 UCC hours he committed to in 2005, before hid injury.

"He never missed a beat,"Stephens said.

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