Earning A Place On The Carousel

Jim Commentucci/The Post-Standard

Peter and Vicki Detor share a ride on the historic Carousel Center carousel with their son, Michael. Thanks to a campaign led by the Detor family, the ride is now accessible to those who use wheelchairs.

For years, the main attraction at Carousel Center in Syracuse symbolized a frustrating truth in Michael Detor’s life:

A young man who absolutely loves carousels usually was banned from riding them.

Not quite three years ago, his mother had enough. Michael and his parents, Vicki and Peter, were visiting the mall. Michael had a simple request: He wanted to take a spin on the historic attraction that gives the place its name.

He couldn’t. It was against the rules. Michael, a 19-year-old student at West Genesee High School, was born with disabilities. He uses a wheelchair. When Vicki asked carousel attendants if Michael could get on, they said there was no access. Vicki asked to speak with mall supervisors, who told her the same thing.

Vicki remembers the longing on her son’s face. “I promise you,” she told him. “We’ll do everything we can to make this carousel accessible.”

Peter Detor heard the steel in Vicki’s voice, and knew how this would end. The family lives on Onondaga Hill. Peter remembers how Vicki started a similar campaign to make the playground at the Split Rock Elementary School accessible to Michael and other children with disabilities. The community rallied behind the effort, Peter said, thanks to a quality familiar to anyone who knows his wife:

“She’s relentless,” said Tom McKeown, executive director of ARISE, a Syracuse advocacy group that was an ally in the effort to change the carousel. Vicki and McKeown made contact with Rob Schoeneck, general manager of the mall. He initially was cautious. The carousel is 102 years old. Mechanically and aesthetically, it was hard to envision any monumental change.

Vicki and McKeown sent along examples of other carousels with wheelchair access. Schoeneck was intrigued.

“The challenge,” he said, “was finding a way to make an incredibly historic carousel accessible without destroying its beauty.”

The Detors knew it could be done. Over the years, as they traveled, they’d discovered some amusement park rides with full access for Michael. Their son loved them. Vicki felt he deserved that chance in his hometown. As for McKeown, he said the issue carried particular meaning at the mall.

“For symbolic value, this is a place where the community gathers for many purposes, so I’d say (access) is very important,” he said.

Schoeneck brought his own passion to the situation. His brother, also named Michael, was being treated at the time for a brain tumor. As a result, Michael Schoeneck — who died last year — was in a wheelchair. He volunteered to help mall officials in checking to make sure approach ramps to the carousel would be wide enough.

They discovered the biggest problem was clearing the gap between the deck and the ride itself. Rob Schoeneck explained that challenge to engineering companies from California and Canada. There was talk of bringing in a hydraulic lift that would have required dramatic changes.

The eventual solution was much easier. A Rochester company, Monroe Wheelchair, called for removing only one wooden horse, which is now on permanent display near the carousel. Workers built a compartment in its place. Whenever someone in a wheelchair wants a ride, the staff opens a portable ramp that leads to the wheelchair compartment.

“We found a way of modifying it without sacrificing any beauty,” said Schoeneck. The compartment was painted in a way to match the larger design by Susan Germain, an artist who dreams of eventually carving a carousel “chariot” for wheelchairs — in a style to mesh exactly with the rest of the ride.

The Detors are simply pleased for their son and for anyone using a wheelchair. Mall officials gave Michael a lifetime pass, and they erected a plaque in the compartment to honor the Detor family. As for Michael, he has the perfect answer for why accessibility is so important. Wednesday, when asked how he feels to use the carousel whenever he wants, Michael responded with one word:


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