The president of a Gainesville-based nonprofit is traveling across the Atlantic this weekend to speak about a topic he advocates at home: accessibility for disabled individuals.
Rafal Strzalkowski, the president of Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation, will speak at the Eighth World Congress on Saturday in Munich.
“I want to spread hope to parents and educators,” he said. “I grew up in times when accessibility and accommodations were not in anyone’s vocabulary.”
Strzalkowski, a wheelchair-bound lawyer, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was 1 year old. While growing up in Poland, he attended the Peto Institute for Conductive Education.
Strzalkowski said the program helped him comprehend his disability and get the help that he needed.
“Conductive Education gave me a better understanding of my body, balance and strengths and how to use the limited ability I do have to my advantage,” Strzalkowski said.
He said he began his nonprofit foundation, which is based in Gainesville, to raise awareness and help outfit local buildings with better accessibility.
The foundation’s treasurer, Paul Brophy, formerly owned The Shamrock Irish Restaurant, now Mother’s Pub and Grill.
He met Strzalkowski in 2007 when he went to several Gainesville establishments in need of wheelchair-accessible restrooms.
He said he began business with Strzalkowski after he realized his own establishment needed to be handicap-accessible.
As treasurer, Brophy’s work with the foundation includes coordinating with new and old establishments to add handicap accessibilities in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Somebody in a wheelchair can get in the door, but they don’t have access to the bathrooms because the doors aren’t wide enough to accept a wheelchair,” Brophy said.
The foundation hopes to help local businesses by providing half of the funds in order for the establishment to incorporate accommodations.
It’s currently creating a smartphone application that would allow individuals with disabilities to locate nearby restaurants and businesses that offer the proper amenities.
“Unfortunately, we are going to have to do some very hectic fundraising because the app is very expensive,” Brophy said. “We were hoping to get it done by the end of this year.”
Strzalkowski said his hard work and commitment developed from individuals who didn’t believe in him, and he believes in the impossible now.
“Nothing was given to me, and I had a strong drive to be the best that I can and show all the naysayers what I’m capable of,” Strzalkowski said. “Nothing is impossible.”
A version of this story ran on page 4 on 10/11/2013 under the headline "Local, wheelchair-bound lawyer to speak at world event in Munich"