Community, inclusion inspire new Home Accessibility Center to support those with disabilities

A new Home Accessibility Center will serve as a showroom to give contractors and families a place to learn how existing kitchens, bathrooms, and other rooms can be renovated to ensure those with disabilities can continue living at home.

This first-of-its-kind facility in West Michigan is a part of Disability Advocates of Kent County's new facility on the Special Olympics United Sports & Inclusion Center (SOMI).

Disability Advocate's mission is to eliminate systemic barriers and enhance programs so that people with disabilities can live the self-directed lives they choose. 

Disability Advocates and new neighbor, Thresholds, officially opened their new offices at the SOMI building and campus in the Grand Rapids suburb of Byron Township on May 12. They join SOMI plus six other organizations that focus on services for children and adults with disabilities.

A community of nonprofits

Community and inclusion are the inspiration for Disability Advocates Kent County (DAKC) and Thresholds to collaborate on the new community Open House and Ribbon Cutting.

“Our organizations serve similar individuals, and we were eager to join with Special Olympics and the other organizations that support those with disabilities. It is a community of nonprofits that can benefit from a common location and the proximity it offers to increase awareness of who we all are and what we do,” says David Bulkowski, executive director of DAKC.

David Bulkowski, executive director of Disability Advocates of Kent County, thanks community members for attending the ribbon-cutting for the new home for Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI). For 27 years, Disability Advocates had been in four office suites that lacked cohesion and usable space. The move to SOMI provides room for its Home Accessibility Center, which offers a dedicated area for those with disabilities, their families, and builders, planners, and architects to experience firsthand the benefits of universally accessible space and state-of-the-art specialty equipment.

In a 2021 Rapid Growth story, the organization shared its vision for the Home Accessibility Center.

The 8,600-square-foot SOMI building features 24 offices, an additional 16 workspaces, two conference rooms, a coffee break area, and additional storage for durable medical equipment.

Alongside the test kitchen are the bathrooms. Shower options include a large shower stall and roll-in shower chair, as well as a standard bath and a variety of shower bench chair configurations.
Innovative construction

Wolverine Building Group was the general contractor for the project and Mathison | Mathison Architects served as the architects.

Curt Mulder, Wolverine Building Group president, says the company was honored to be part of the innovative construction of DAKC’s new headquarters and occupational therapy showroom. 

“It is our hope that, once the community experiences these offices and the programs they house, we would all be inspired to build more access for people with disabilities,” Mulder says.

When the renovations are completed in the auditorium to provide easier access for all individuals, nonprofits in the facility expect to host community events and comedy shows. The new building also has two gymnasiums and includes plans for a cafe.

Evan Mathison, founding principal of Mathison | Mathison Architects, collaborated with Thresholds and DAKC to transform the space from what had been high school classrooms to an attractive and functional office environment.  

“We are pleased with the results and delighted that Thresholds and Disability Advocates are, as well,” Mathison says. 

Unified sports training facility

SOMI’s Unified Sports & Inclusion Center is being described as the largest facility of its kind in the world. It’s located in the former home of South Christian High School.

It will serve as a training facility for SOMI’s four regions and 36 areas throughout the state. Athletes will be able to take part in unified sports, and health and wellness programs, including nutrition and preventative care. 

“We were very excited with the vision that Special Olympics Michigan and its partner agencies had for the building and the extraordinary opportunity to bring such dedicated, like-minded nonprofit organizations together in this unique construction and collection of service providers for individuals with disabilities,” says Nick Haglund, project manager for Erhardt Construction, the general contractor for the building.

The collaboration of the organizations shows the world “the importance of community and inclusion — a campus where all gifts and all abilities are celebrated, a campus that will not only raise awareness but raise expectations,” says Tim Hileman, president and CEO of SOMI.

For more information about Disability Advocates of Kent County, visit

Photography by Kristina Bird of Bird + Bird Studio.

This article is a part of the year-long series Disability Inclusion exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.
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