Aging well: Disability awareness highlights challenges, opportunities

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■ The Independent Life Center provides advocacy and training in skills of daily living, peer support and referrals to helpful resources for people with disabilities as well as for their families and support networks. The ILC serves clients in Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Grand and Summit counties. For more information, call the main office in Craig at 826-0833 or 1-888-526-0833.

■ The Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation assists eligible people with disabilities to become productive members of the work force through a variety of programs. For more information, call offices in Craig at 824-3246 or Steamboat Springs at 871-4853; or visit www.cdhs.state.co.us/DVR/.

■ Rocky Mountain Service, Employment, Redevelopment program provides employment, training and education opportunities to disadvantaged people through programs such as the Senior Community Services Employment Program for unemployed people ages 55 and older. For more information, call 303-480-9394 or visit www.rmser.org.

■ For information and resources related to living with a disability — such as disability laws, housing, health care, employment and educational opportunities — visit www.disabilityinfo.gov.

■ For more information about the Americans with Disabilities Act, visit www.ada.gov or www.adanet.org.

As the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities act approaches, it’s a good time to think about challenges facing people with disabilities or, taking awareness one step further, to imagine having a disability.

Look for something in a dark basement, for example, or tie an arm to your belt. Try to do chores with thick heavy gloves to see how it would feel to have no feeling in your hands or feet, a condition called neuropathy.

After all, it’s likely most people will experience a disability some time in their lives. About one in five people live with a disability in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Our chances for acquiring a disability increase as we age: About 45 percent of people ages 65 to 69 have a disability, and nearly 74 percent of those ages 80 and older have a disability.

A disability, in general, is a physical, psychological or emotional condition creating significant barriers to performing activities of everyday life. Disabilities can happen as a result of illness, injury, genetics or other causes.

July 26 is the 20th year of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and defines their rights, including access to public places.

The ADA helped facilitate organizations such as the Independent Life Center in Craig, which advocates for people with disabilities and provides counseling and referrals to help them live independently.

The ILC and other similar programs have highlighted challenges facing people with disabilities as well as how they can learn to cope with those challenges to live active and fulfilling lives.

While resources, such as transportation and affordable therapy services, can be sparse, particularly in rural areas, they do exist. Learning about these resources is one of the first steps toward becoming an active and contributing member of one’s community.

That’s where the Independent Life Center comes in. The organization, one of 10 certified Centers for Independent Living in Colorado, accesses people’s varying needs, such as home adaptation or repair, health services or equipment, employment training and education opportunities — and directs them to local, state or national funding sources or programs designed to help.

The ILC’s ultimate goal is to provide people with disabilities the tools to advocate for themselves and succeed in their goals.

“That means strengthening them so they have the inner strength and self-confidence to do that,” said Evelyn Tileston, the ILC’s executive director.

The ILC, for example, has a computer lab and instruction available, as well as a program helping individuals get a computer to help with education or job skills. The organization also works with programs that help with job training or employment opportunities.

Rocky Mountain Service, Employment, Redevelopment program assists eligible older adults by paying their wages while they learn job skills at a host agency such as the ILC.

“We love to help people, and we are helping these people get skills they can market,” Tileston said.

Much of the support the ILC provides older people with disabilities focuses on helping them remain as independent as possible so they do not have to go to nursing homes.

This can involve connecting families with local adult day programs, which care for disabled and/or older adults during the day while caregivers work or attend other needs or finding funds to help pay for therapy services when insurance or Medicare benefits run out.

Other ILC programs and partnerships, such as Independent Living Through Technology, offer ongoing support to people experiencing vision or hearing loss as well as information about assisting devices and technology to help with everyday tasks.

In 2005, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a call to action to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities through better health services and understanding.

Increasing awareness that people with disabilities can lead long, healthy and productive lives was one of the action’s goals.

Education is a key component of awareness. This week and throughout the year, for example, representatives from the Colorado Workforce Centers are available to make presentations to businesses about employing people with disabilities.

ILC staff also is available to make presentations about a variety of topics, including disability etiquette, which emphasizes treating people with disabilities with respect — not making assumptions about their abilities but also not being afraid to ask questions.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Do you need a little help there?’” Tileston said.

It’s important that people with disabilities take advantage of the opportunities to educate others by being positive role models and being open to questions.

“Once people feel like they can talk to you … you’ve created an atmosphere of negotiation and compassion, and you can’t make any progress without that,” Tileston said.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org or 871-7606. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information or to view past articles, visit www.agingwelltoday.com.

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