Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, right, talks about handicapped accessibility at Waterfront Park, Trenton, with Norman Smith, left, of Project Freedom Robbinsville; and Scott Elliott, executive director, Progressive Center for Independent LivingFull size photo

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, right, talks about handicapped accessibility at Waterfront Park, Trenton, with Norman Smith, left, of Project Freedom Robbinsville; and Scott Elliott, executive director, Progressive Center for Independent Living

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TRENTON, N.J. - As the April 5 Opening Day for the Trenton Thunder approaches, Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes and representatives from several agencies that advocate on behalf of people with disabilities, along with Thunder General Manager Will Smith, toured Mercer County’s Waterfront Park recently to see accessibility improvements.

When the stadium was built in 1994, it had capacity for 6,150 spectators, but only 19 handicap-accessible seating areas. Among the recent renovations are 14 more seats, giving a total of 33 spaces for wheelchairs.

Joining Hughes and Smith on the tour were Scott Elliott, Executive director of Progressive Center for Independent Living; Scott Ellis, PCIL; Jerry Carbone, PCIL; Norman Smith, Project Freedom; Frank Zabawa, Mercer County Park Commission; and Tom Shaw, Mercer County Office on Disability Services.

“Accessibility means different things to different people, and over the years Mercer County has made a range of improvements in a variety of areas, from relocating or adapting offices so that they are reachable by all people, to providing an interpreter for the hearing impaired,” Hughes said. Hughes thanked the Progressive Center for Independent Living and Project Freedom for the guidance offered by those agencies.

The Progressive Center’s executive director, Scott Elliott, praised the relationship among the groups and Mercer County.

“I’ve got to say that over the last couple years, everyone stepped up,” Elliott said.
“What’s going on here is huge. It’s just awesome that now we can just decide at the last minute to come to a game. There’s more seating, there’s more available accessible seating. More folks in wheelchairs can come to games,” he added.

Also highlighted on the tour were a new height-appropriate ticket window, new curb cuts, signage and more.

Norman Smith, Associate Executive Director of Project Freedom in Robbinsville, said he was pleased that the additional wheelchair seating areas offered space for personal aides that often accompany people with disabilities.

In addition to the physical improvements to the stadium, ballpark staff took a 3-hour class in sensitivity training. Carbone, outreach coordinator for Progressive Center, said the training is invaluable in that it reminds people how to treat others of all abilities. “It’s about customer service. Not all disabilities are apparent,” he said.