Winter Village Takes Steps to Accommodate Skaters With Special Needs

The magic of the holidays is about making dreams come true and at the outdoor ice skating rink in Winter Village, the Tampa Downtown Partnership is working to make sure visitors with all different abilities can experience something special.

The rink is a place where you’ll find grand gestures like proposals and family reunions. But if you look a little closer it’s the smaller moments, like a simple helping hand, that can make a big difference.

“I had to come back out here at least one more time,” Henry Spells told ABC Action News Reporter Kylie McGivern when they met at the rink.

Spells is a big hockey fan, rattling off his favorites players – including Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov.

A year ago, Spells came to Winter Village’s ice skating rink.

“I rubbed my hand on the ice, I was like…I wonder if I could ever, you know, think about sled hockey or whatnot,” he said.

Or maybe, even a step further.

“Ice skating like a regular, normal person,” Spells said, sitting on a bench a the edge of the rink.

You see, Spells walks with the help of a cane. This year, he found he doesn’t need it. Not on the ice.

“I let go of the wall and of course KJ had me the whole time and we were out in the middle,” Spells said of Kenandrae Telfair, who works at the rink.

Shaun Drinkard, Senior Director of Public Programming & Operations, with the Tampa Downtown Partnership, says this is what it’s all about.

“Whether it’s turning off the sound and creating a calm environment…they accommodate disabilities of all sorts,” he said of the contractor, Ice Rink Events. “Including anybody in a wheelchair, they will coordinate with the family to actually bring the wheelchair on the ice and the staff here will bring them around.”

Jill Bosack brought her 5-year-old son with autism for the first time and was able to learn the times it would be less crowded.

“There are many people that are on staff that are here to help with people that have needs,” she said. “It’s just so nice to be able to have everyone together and to have him be able to be with other children who are participating in the normal activities that children should participate in, in the holiday season.”

Spells wants to inspire others with disabilities to live fully.

“Don’t let nothing stop you from doing what you do. I mean go big. Go beyond yourself. And for those other people that are sitting at home, just saying, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this.’ Well they’re going to be wrong.” Spells said. “I can’t have people sitting at home, I really can’t.”

Winter Village will be open until 6:00 Christmas Eve and reopen at 4:00 Christmas afternoon. After that, Winter Village will be open from 10:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night until Jan. 5.

By: Kylie McGivern
ABC Action News