September 22, 2021
Written By: Michelle Pawelski
It was two years ago on a trip to Denver with her husband Trevor that Kelsey Stine realized something needed to be done. The 29-year-old was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy as a child and had been wheelchair-bound much of her life. As an avid traveler, Kelsey had learned to navigate most obstacles, however, when looking for a good, local restaurant in the Mile High City proved daunting, she came up with an idea that would help locals and tourists visiting the Black Hills avoid the same struggle. “We went to three different restaurants and couldn’t get into any of them,” Kelsey said of the inaccessibility of the places in Denver.
Traveling can be overwhelming and upsetting when you are in an unfamiliar place without the added stress of finding accessible locations, she said. Growing up, Kelsey’s dad searched for restrooms large enough to fit Kelsey and her mom, who has the same rare form of muscular dystrophy and is also in a wheelchair. “I thought it would be super nice if there was a website or app where you could go and immediately find those (inclusive) places.”
Born and raised in the Black Hills, Kelsey thought her community was accessible, however, she realized maybe it was because she knew all the backdoors, side entrances and large bathrooms, something not everyone would know. “I wanted to highlight that – one stop where people can go and plan out their whole trip. Things will always come up, but if that is taken care of it eliminates one less aspect of stress.”
This spring, Kelsey launched Accessible Black Hills, a community-focused organization with a goal of highlighting local businesses and destinations providing inclusive locations for tourists and locals to visit. Kelsey’s idea started small – a personal blog sharing her story on Instagram of local businesses and their accessibility.
One week, three posts and 250 followers later and Kelsey knew she was onto something much larger. “I was going to highlight my story and at the same time showcase the features of accessible areas of local businesses but was overwhelmed at the response and realized it could really turn into a guide, website and organization to promote these features and create worry-free travel in the Black Hills are and, in the future, expanding to other areas.” Kelsey also had other local organizations such as Visit Rapid City reach out and want to combine resources. “I am really excited for this fall to really focus on Accessible Black Hills and reach out to all those connections.”
Kelsey had wanted to start Accessible Black Hills two years ago soon after her trip to Denver, however, said it took her awhile to get out of her comfort zone and advocate for herself and others who are disabled. “I think I went through a lot of my life not wanting to show my disability – it is sometimes hard to say ‘Hey, I’m disabled and here is what I am fighting for.’” Kelsey soon realized all the people she would help and the difference she would make in the community she loved.
Kelsey is currently in the first phase of her three-phase plan which began with gathering data and rating local destinations such as unique shops, locally owned restaurants, museums, trails, and other attractions on their accessibility. Kelsey and her volunteers found that most businesses were open to changing or adding features to make their buildings more accessible. “That is the beautiful thing, and I think that’s what I love about our community is there is such a strong sense of love and support of one another once you are aware of something. I think awareness has happened, and it is just the beginning.”
Phase 2 involves developing a searchable website and hub for tourists and locals to use as a directory of accessible locations in the Black Hills. The final phase is developing grant opportunities and providing financial support to assist businesses in making their locations more inclusive.
Aside from Accessible Black Hills, Kelsey owns Vela Creative, a creative agency offering a variety of services including branding, website design, social media, podcast management and digital marketing. She also has a podcast titled “Lay the Course” about women in business who are pursuing their passions and is the current board president for AAF Black Hills.
“I feel like my whole life has pointed me in this direction …this is something I can speak to with people and share the joys of living. Everyone has something they are dealing with, mine just happens to be physical.”