The announcement of the award recipient coincided with the release of Accessible Rhode Island’s 7th Annual Guide to Rhode Island for People with Disabilities. An international leader of the Paralympic Games movement, DePace was honored for his ardent support of initiatives for people with disabilities.
Marie and Don Perna of Accessible Rhode Island said DePace has been at the forefront of efforts to improve access.
“We are honored to have Paul DePace receive our Quality of Life Award for 2009,” said Don Perna. “Paul worked tirelessly on behalf of persons with disabilities and exemplifies perfectly everything that Accessible Rhode Island stands for and tries to achieve.”
DePace has been on the University staff since 1977, and in the last 15 years, he has played a pivotal role in some of the largest building projects in the University’s history, including the Ryan Center, three new residence halls, a new dining hall, a new home for the College of Business Administration, the Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences and a new Alumni Center. As director of capital projects, DePace is responsible for all phases of major building projects at URI. He has ensured that all new and renovated facilities meet all state and federal standards for accessibility.
The East Greenwich resident was paralyzed in a car accident in 1967. He began competing as a wheelchair athlete in 1968, the year he earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from URI.
He said he was humbled to be honored by Accessible Rhode Island.
“With minimal resources, Accessible Rhode Island does an outstanding job providing individuals with disabilities information about all of the recreational and cultural opportunities in the state,” DePace said. “Marie and Don Perna work hard to assemble and share information about opportunities that are accessible to Rhode Islanders with disabilities. Ease of access is always a critical issue, whether it is at URI or one of the state’s museums.
“Don and Marie know we are all enriched when everyone has access to concerts, exhibits and parks,” DePace said. “They have always put together a great manual, and they have done it all as volunteers.”
In his remarks during the ceremonies, DePace recognized individuals who have been among the leaders in the accessibility movement.
“I have truly just been a bit player in the movement,” he said. “The real stars were people like the late Ed Schroeder, assistant vice president at the University and chairman of the then governor’s Committee for Employment of the Handicapped who also recruited me back to the University.”
During his senior year, DePace focused on important civil rights issues that arose in the 1960s.
“Persons with disabilities came to understand that these rights were also theirs and they had the opportunity to change things,” he said.
DePace said there was a group in the state working to improve access, including transportation, employment and housing. “I have been fortunate to be involved with a number dedicated individuals who have been at the forefront of this movement.”
That group developed the PARI Independent Living Center, Independence Square, low- cost, quality office space for non-profits, and the Independent Living Authority, which built three apartment houses, one in Pawtucket, North Providence and Providence.
“Working in the disability movement has gotten me into sports around the nation and around the world. I gained a great deal from working with these groups. It’s exciting that the work continues and I continue to be involved in it. It’s my responsibility to give back.”
DePace is a member of Wheelchair Sports, USA Hall of Fame and the Rhode Island Scholar Athlete Hall of Fame. Here are some highlights of his service on behalf of wheelchair athletes:
• U.S Olympic Committee, Board of Directors, 1988-2003;
• Chef de Mission for the U.S. team in Barcelona, Spain, 1992 IX Paralympics;
• International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation, vice president and president, 1998 through 2003;
• International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation, executive committee, 2003-present;
• Atlanta Paralympic Games (1996) Organizing Committee;
• Wheelchair Sports, USA, chairman, 1998-2003.
HIGH QUALITY: Paul M. DePace, director of capital projects at the University of Rhode Island, front, poses with Don and Marie Perna of Accessible Rhode Island after they presented the organization’s Quality of Life Award to DePace. Photo courtesy Accessible Rhode Island.