Disabilities are Us!

Are you disabled in any way? How does one live with that?

“A disability is a minority of people that accepts everyone, regardless of race, creed, national origin or gender” according to Melody Reynolds, Executive  Director of Advocates for Access. “Labeling a person with a disability in a derogatory manner is disempowering.” Their agency’s focus in on “people first.” Their agency presents training on Disability Awareness and Etiquette.

“Labeling is especially detrimental to children,” according to Shirley Wells, one of the Community Reintegration Coordinators.

For one of their consumers to suffer a loss, such as, loss of physical functioning, loss of job and income causes consumers to feel that they lost their identity, and feel a total sense of helplessness. Reynolds stressed that they provide a sense of hope to them. All of them, staff and consumers, are in this together to help. “We are partners,” explains Reynolds.

The official mission of Advocates for Access, is that their Center for Independent Living is dedicated to “Empowering people with disabilities to live independently in the community.” To achieve this objective, this agency provides direct services, combined with social change to allow greater integration of persons with disabilities into (inclusion) mainstream life.”

Advocates for Access is a not for profit agency, non-residential, private organization, established in 1985. “It is managed by and for people with disabilities,” according to their pamphlet. Reynolds explains that their agency is mandated that 51% of board members and staff should have a disability. This requirement allows staff and board members to be more compassionate and understanding towards their consumers.

All staff members serve on the boards of different Social Services Agencies to discover all of the consumer’s needs. Staff works with the Illinois Department of Transportation on bus access, safe access places where they can enter and leave. Other staff members serve on housing committees, special events.

Reynolds is especially involved in educating legislators about Disability Awareness, and about consumer’s needs. Their staff does “accessibility audits” to help businesses, places of housing and all other companies, etc. advise and train  them about how to provide consumer access to consumers in need. The direct issue is: Does the consumer have reasonable access, or have tools to aid them to do their job, etc.?

Advocates for Access provide emergency preparedness for groups. The Public Health Department calls on them to do this training. When writing grants, which is a source of funding for some programs, she lays out their objectives, and measurable outcomes. Helping a consumer achieve their objectives is part of the measurable outcome. Another measurable outcome is the number of calls that they receive for assistance. Last year, Reynolds said that they had 6000 calls.

.Wells  provides direct services in the areas of accessible transportation, housing assistance,, and are advocacy for consumer s who are entitled to  receive financial resources, such as SSDI, (Social Security Disability Income.) She is also a resource person to consumers who need help from Social Service agencies that provide them. She participates in social activities for persons with disabilities.

Reynolds talked about the “Personal Assistant” (PA) program. Such a person that works for a person with a disability, and helps them to become more independent in the community and assists them with completing daily activities of living, based on his or her needs. It could be assistance with helping them to cook, balance their checkbook, and learn how to use the bus route and many others. The consumer receives a computer database printout of Personal Assistants to choose from.

PA’s are especially matched to achieve the consumer’s goals. Another goal might be to have the PA find assistive devices that a specific consumer needs, such as available interpreters, or an Amplified Phone, a free TTY, or a CaqpTel for a consumer who is hard of hearing, and or deaf. The PA is screened, interviewed and hired by Advocates for Access They are provided orientation and ongoing intensive training.

THE 2010 MARKETER:CENTRAL ILLINOIS BUSINESS TO BUSINESS JOURNAL, which featured  25 WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP included Melody Reynolds. She stated, “We are one of the best bargains in the state. For every person we are able to move or keep out of the nursing home, we save taxpayers approximately $30,000 per person per year.”

Advocates for Access can be reached at 4450 N. Prospect Road, Suite C8, or at 309-682-3500 or by email at mreynolds@advocatesforaccess.com.