By Barbara Louise Davis
I started at the Center for Accessible Living as a secretary on June 4, 1984. Since then my involvement with CAL has taken a lot of twists and turns: sometimes as paid staff, sometimes as a volunteer, and at other times as both a volunteer and a paid consultant. I’ve learned a lot during those thirty years. Below are some of the changes I’ve seen and things I’ve learned.
Many People Can Fit in a Very Tight Space
We were in the Interchange Building on 8th and Jefferson in 1984. There was a staff of 11 people. The bookkeeper’s office was in the closet, six people were almost on top of each other in one small room, and the peer support/counseling office was also the library. Despite the small staff and shortage of office space, programs and services provided were: housing, advocacy, ramp building, independent living skills training, individual and group counseling, peer support mentoring, loan closet and information and referral. There have been several moves since, as our office staff and range of programs and services have expanded.
It Takes a Village to Change a Law, But One Person’s Vote DOES Count
CAL has always had an active part in systems change. Its staff, volunteers and voting consumers have worked tirelessly to get the Attendant Care Program funded, to improve transportation services, to get more funding for ramp building, housing, and other programs, and to educate consumers on the fact that their one vote does make a difference. When I first started at CAL, I saw consumer groups that worked very hard and successfully to get a bill passed to fund the Attendant Care program. Through the years I have been a witness to how much a difference it can make when voters call in to their representative to voice their desire for passage or failure of a particular bill. There have been a number of instances in these campaigns where a bill passed or failed by one vote.
Accommodations Can Be Simple and Inexpensive
At CAL the majority of the staff is comprised of individuals with physical, mental and learning disabilities. Accommodations are a way of life here. I’ve seen them range from something as simple as a string across a door, a few blocks under the legs of a desk, a large font size on printed material and comfortable office chairs for those with back problems. As technology has advanced, it has been easier for CAL to provide accommodations such as televisions and telephones with close-captioning, video relay, telephones with built-in amplifiers, software programs for those who are blind and visually impaired, and other types of accommodations.
We Will Never Give Up
There have been many gains and losses in disability rights, program funding and community services throughout the years of my involvement with CAL. Often something we have fought hard to achieve has either been taken away or has come close to being taken away. At other times CAL staff, consumers and volunteer have worked to fight what appeared to be a losing battle but ended up being a winning one. Throughout it all, we have never given up. As a result, the disability community and CAL as a whole have come a long way in thirty years. We know, however, that there is still much room for improvement, and so will continue to advocate for change when needed.
Teamwork Gets More Done
When we had a staff of 11, we provided a lot of programs and services. About a year after I started, the staff was cut to 8, and we provided those same services. We did this by pulling together and doubling up. Since then, there have been a lot of times when funding ended for a program or programs, and staff has had to once again pull together and double up to continue providing services. I have worked in a lot of places before I came to CAL, and never have I seen an organization that has teamwork like CAL does.
Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks
Consumers who become newly disabled frequently come to CAL thinking they could not adjust to life as a person with a disability “at my age.” The reality is, with a positive attitude, a willingness to embrace technology and ability to try some creative adaptations, it is possible for anyone at any age to live a full, satisfying life with a disability. Will it be perfect? Probably not; but then, life as an able-bodied person isn’t perfect, either.
A lot of things have changed at CAL in thirty years. We’ve gone from a small office in Louisville to a much larger office in Louisville, a satellite office in Murray, and a new satellite office in Northern KY. There was no First Impressions Suit Closet, employment program or consumer resource room.
Technological advances have had a huge impact on how things are done at CAL now. We didn’t have a fax machine, paper folder and a computer at every staff member’s desk in 1984. We couldn’t apply for grants through the Internet or help consumers apply for jobs via Internet then, either. There was no web site, blog or electronic mailings, and nobody on the staff had cell phones.
Staff members have come and gone since June 1984. We remember many of them with a fond heart. Most of all, we remember Elaine Zwicker and Angela Casey, who left this world way too soon.
The last thirty years with CAL has been a wild ride. The next thirty years should bring about even more wonderful changes for CAL and the disability community. Thanks to all of our supporters & consumers for making us what we are today!
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74159755@N00/4093225806/