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PHOTOS: New Sports and Fitness Center for Milwaukeeans with Disabilities Planned for 2016

If Damian Buchman has his way, a remarkable new community resource for Milwaukee County's 100,000-plus residents with disabilities will be built within the next couple of years.

Buchman is the founder and executive director of The Ability Center, a community sports center for people of all abilities - disabled and able-bodied.

Buchman himself suffered from childhood cancer and almost lost both legs.  But he grew up to be an active, athletic adult, and wanted to give others the opportunity, as well.

He says The Ability Center is based on the concept of "reverse inclusion," to level the proverbial and literal playing fields for those with physical and developmental disabilities.

"It's designed universally for people with disabilities while inviting in the able-bodied public, so it's a complete paradigm shift of the way we see things and build things today," he says.

The size of a super Walmart, the planned building would be the first of its kind in the U.S., Buchman says. It would feature modified fitness equipment, playing courts and a pool.

Buchman hopes to build it at the medical campus in Wauwatosa, near popular bus routes. He says it's important to build the center in Milwaukee County, where the largest concentration of southeastern Wisconsin's 190,000 people reporting a disability live.

Buchman says the goal to give people with disabilities the "access and opportunity to that same level of being fit, active and healthy that their able-bodied peers do." The center was inspired by his experience running a sports facility in Waukesha where youth and adult social sports leagues played.

"When I realized that opportunity isn't out there for people with disabilities, I started to have a sincere problem with that," he says. "This is a problem that's easily solvable; we just need the space to give them."

Buchman says the Ability Center isn't about trying to reinvent the wheel; he knows there are many organizations that provide adapting services to people with disabilities and even provide adaptive equipment, such as prosthetic running legs and wheelchairs. But often these organizations, and athletes, need space.
"We want organizations like that to come in and use our affordable, accessible, inclusive space and actually enhance the programming they already offer," he says. "It doesn't matter if the (athletes) have that wheelchair or that leg if they don't have a place to use it."

The Ability Center would have on staff trainers with accreditation in personal training for the disabled and experience in recreational therapy and physical therapy.

Buchman says plans are to launch a capital campaign in spring and fall of 2014, to break ground in 2015 and open by 2016.

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.