Kelly focuses attention on Olympic venue accessibility

The chance to be a part of Olympic history as a torchbearer in the Olympic Torch Relay is an elusive dream for most people. For Patrick Kelly, being a torchbearer is icing on the cake of the work he has been doing with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) since 1992.

A physician's assistant in Emory Hospital's pain consultation service, Kelly is one of 5,500 torchbearers from across the nation selected by ACOG as "community heroes that best represent the Olympic spirit." On July 17 or 18 (one or two days before the Games begin), Kelly will attach the Olympic torch to his wheelchair and begin his one-kilometer (.62 miles) leg of the relay. His route most likely will be somewhere in the Stone Mountain area near his home. He was nominated to be a torchbearer by his wife Kathy.

"It shouldn't be too much of a problem," Kelly said of his torch relay route. "I've participated in the last four Peachtree Road Races (a ten kilometer run held each July 4), so I don't expect that a kilometer will be much trouble."

Making the Olympics accessible

A longtime member of the Campus Accessibility Subcommittee of the University Senate's Campus Development Committee, Kelly is quite adept at reviewing renovation and construction plans to ensure their compliance with disability accessibility standards, including those set forth by the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). A couple of months after the ADA was passed by Congress, Kelly was driving into work on the Stone Mountain Freeway when the announcement came that Atlanta had been chosen as the 1996 Olympic host city.

"People began talking about $1 billion in new construction," Kelly recalled. "I saw the connection with ADA right away. It took me about two years of calling down to ACOG and trying to find out what they were doing. They finally put me on their Committee on Disability Access, and through that I worked my way onto the Construction Subcommittee."

In addition to people with mobility impairments resulting from spinal chord injuries (such as Kelly), the ACOG committee also includes people with hearing and visual impairments and cognitive disabilities, also known as learning disabilities.

While some retrofitting of existing facilities will be necessary to accommodate disabled Olympic visitors, Kelly said most of the new Olympic facilities will be "state-of-the-art in terms of disabled access and viewing lines of sight." Providing a comparable viewing line of sight means that areas for people in wheelchairs will allow for a line of sight comparable to that of people in standard seating, even when people in the row in front of the wheelchairs stand up.

Most of the new facilities also will meet ADA's 1 percent requirement, which mandates that 1 percent of the seating in public facilities be wheelchair accessible. "That's a big stride for Atlanta," Kelly said. "The existing Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium has 50,000 seats and only 50 spaces for wheelchairs. But the Olympic Stadium will have 80,000 seats and 800 wheelchair seats. If you're in the stadium building business, you really should come to Atlanta and see what we've done here."

The Olympic Stadium also will have accessible concession stands and a unisex restroom near the first aid station "so that if someone needs assistance going to the bathroom, they can do it with some degree of dignity," Kelly said.

A positive legacy

Advocating for equal access for people with disabilities is a long-term commitment for Kelly, who sustained a spinal chord injury in a 1978 motorcycle accident. He was a student in the medical school's master of anesthesiology program at the time. "Back then it was not intuitively obvious how I was going to do anesthesia in a wheelchair," Kelly said. "It was only by the good graces of Emory that they allowed me to come back, complete my degree and get my license as an anesthetist. They could have said, `Well, we're not going to change the standards for this degree, and we don't see how you're going to be able to safely meet these standards. Therefore, why don't you look at our history or psychology programs.'

"I was very lucky that they allowed me to come back and complete the program," Kelly continued. "I've really been able to find my own way, in that now I work for the hospital's pain consultation service and see people after they come out of the operating room." He assists terminally ill and cancer patients with pain management, as well as helping narcotic-addicted patients overcome their addictions. Kelly, who graduated from Emory in 1979, initially joined the hospital staff in 1980 as technical director of the anesthesia lab. He then worked as administrative manager of hospital anesthesia services before taking his current job eight years ago.

Working on the Campus Accessibility Subcommittee has created a legacy at Emory of which Kelly is very proud. His work at ACOG, however, has created a similar legacy for the entire city, including a fully accessible Georgia Tech Aquatics Center and a Stone Mountain tennis venue that will have 1 percent accessible seating (in addition to the Olympic Stadium). "At some point the energy you expend volunteering will come back to you," Kelly said. "I spent hundreds of hours on this ACOG project. And if this torch thing had never happened, I would still be proud of the legacy that we've left."

--Dan Treadaway

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