Understanding Mental Health Conditions

Mental health conditions are often invisible disabilities. In other words, it can be difficult to know that someone has a mental health condition just by looking at them. Many of us may not think of this type of condition as a disability; yet, it can have a serious impact on how individuals live their daily lives.

Even if you haven’t personally experienced a mental health condition, you probably know somebody who has.

  • Each year in the U.S., one in five adults experiences a mental health condition.
  • Serious mental illness such as schizophrenia affects one in 17.
  • Approximately 75% of individuals with a mental health condition develop it by the age of 24.

So what is a mental health condition? Put simply, it is one that affects a person’s mood, thinking, and behavior. There are many different types, ranging from mild to severe, including:

  • Alcohol and substance addiction
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Schizophrenia

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a mental health condition as a disability if it limits one or more major life activities. As such, many mental health conditions are protected under the ADA, as well as a number of other federal laws.

The Independence Center offers a variety of resources, information, and support – including assistance with housing, employment, disability benefits, and peer support – to help those with mental health conditions live more independently.


To learn more, visit our Center for Independent Living page or give us a call at 719-471-8181.

Homeless man

Staying Independent with Hospital to Home

Imagine being admitted to the hospital after becoming seriously injured or ill. Then imagine being told that you will be unable to return home any time soon because your recovery is “complex.” Your only options are to either stay in the hospital or be transferred to a nursing facility due to the extensive supports and services your recovery requires. After being out of your home for an extended period, you find that bills go unpaid, life moves on, and you eventually lose the ability to live independently again.

That may be difficult for most of us to imagine; but this story is repeated time and again for countless people here in the Front Range and across the country. However, thanks to an innovative program at The Independence Center called Hospital to Home (H2H), more people have access to the supports and services they need to recover in the comfort of their own home.

Read more about how H2H is helping patients maintain their independence in the article, “Hospital-to-Home Program Saves Lives, Slashes Costs,” by Tim Rowan.

Understanding Cognitive Disabilities

“Cognitive disability” is a broad term that encompasses a variety of conditions and is not always well-defined. In general, however, it refers to individuals who have greater difficulty with one or more mental tasks than the average person. Cognitive disabilities can affect memory, the ability to problem-solve, the ability to focus, and visual, linguistic, reading, verbal, or math comprehension.

There are two main areas clinicians look at when diagnosing a cognitive disability:

Intellectual functioning: A person’s ability to plan, comprehend, and reason.

Adaptive functioning: How well a person can apply social and practical skills to everyday life.

Some cognitive disabilities are genetic, like Down’s Syndrome or Fragile X Syndrome. Some are the result of brain chemistry or structure. Others are acquired due to a physiological change such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or dementia.

According to the World Health Organization:

  • Approximately three percent of the world’s population has some sort of cognitive disability.
  • Of these, about 85 percent have a mild cognitive disability, such as a learning disability like dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Only about four percent of individuals are considered to have severe cognitive disabilities.

At The Independence Center, we offer a variety of resources – like skills classes, peer support groups, and assistance with disability benefits – to help people with cognitive disabilities live more independently.


To learn more about these and other resources, visit our Center for Independent Living page or give us a call at 719-476-8181.

Man with a cognitive disability working in a store

Podcast: Creating Accessible Parking Lots

In Episode 7 of the Real Empowerment Podcast, Daniel Ratcliff of The Independence Center speaks with Pat Going and Teri Ulrich about their business, ADA Services and Plans, Inc. (ASAP). Together, they offer low-cost consultations with companies and organizations to ensure that they are compliant with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In this podcast, they discuss:

  • How parking lot surveys help business owners and patrons.
  • The economic impact of people with disabilities.
  • How a parking lot survey can reduce the risk of “drive-by” lawsuits.

The panel will also discuss the best ways to interact with people with disabilities and how to provide accessibility so that everyone can feel welcome.

To listen to the podcast, click below.

For more information on disability awareness or individual advocacy, contact The IC at 719-476-8181.

Understanding Disability: Deaf and Hard of Hearing

When there is a partial or total inability to hear, individuals are considered deaf or hard of hearing. Approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population (48 million people) have hearing loss and that number will continue to grow as the population ages. But not all hearing loss is the same. In fact, there are four different kinds:

Conductive Hearing Loss: Occurs when sounds can’t get through the outer or middle ear. This can be caused by fluid build-up, ear wax, ear infection, a hole in the eardrum, earwax or other object in the ear, or an issue with the formation of the outer or middle ear. This type of hearing loss can often be treated with medicine or surgery.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: This is the most common type of hearing loss and is due to inner ear nerve damage or issues with the neural pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Causes can include illness, toxic drugs, genetic conditions, loud noises, a blow to the head, or the way the inner ear is formed. This type of hearing loss cannot usually be fixed with surgery or medication, but hearing aids my help in some cases.

Mixed Hearing Loss: A combination of the two types listed above.

Auditory Neuropathy Spectral Disorder: In this type of hearing loss, sound enters the ear normally but it isn’t organized in a way the brain can understand due to damage to the inner ear or hearing nerve.

Hearing loss is typically categorized from mild to profound, depending on the softest sounds in decibels (dB) a person can hear.

  • Mild:
    • for adults: between 26 and 40 dB
    • for children: between 20 and 40 dB
  • Moderate: between 41 and 69 dB
  • Severe: between 70 and 94 dB
  • Profound: 95 dB and above

It is important to note that many people with hearing loss do not consider themselves “hearing impaired,” but rather deaf or hard of hearing. When in doubt, ask how they identify.


At The Independence Center, we offer a variety of resources for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, such as peer support groups, assistive technology, and help finding a job.

If you or someone you know is deaf or hard of hearing and would like information on living more independently, visit our Deaf & Hard of Hearing page. You can also call us at 719-476-8181 (video phone for the d/Deaf: 719-358-2513).



Woman being fitted with a hearing aid

Understanding Disability: Blindness and Low Vision


Blind man walking through park with white caneWhen many of us think about blindness, we imagine someone who is totally without sight. So it may surprise you that only 15% of people with vision disorders are completely blind. The remaining 85% do retain some degree of sight.

There are a number of definitions and categories developed by ophthalmologists and optometrists, as well as the U.S. government, to classify a person’s level of visual disability.

Low Vision

Using the Snelling Eye Chart (the standard eye vision chart that most of us are familiar with), eye specialists measure a person’s distance acuity. Individuals who are diagnosed with low vision have a visual acuity measurement of 20/70. That means that they see the same thing from 20 feet away that a person with unimpaired vision sees from 70 feet away. Many eye care professionals consider people to have low vision only if they have permanent, uncorrectable vision loss that interferes with daily activities.

Legally Blind

Legal blindness is a definition developed by the U.S. government to determine eligibility for various training and benefits programs. There are two parts to this definition:

  • A visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better-seeing eye with best conventional correction (regular glasses or contact lenses).
  • OR a visual field (the total area an individual can see without moving the eyes from side to side) of 20 degrees or less (also called tunnel vision) in the better-seeing eye.

Total Blindness

Most people with vision loss are still able to differentiate between light and dark, and determine the direction or source of the light. For people with total blindness, however, there is a complete lack of light and form perception, which is recorded as no light perception (NLP).

The Independence Center offers people who have blindness or low vision a variety of resources – including peer support groups, skills classes, and assistance with disability benefits – to help them live more independently.


To get started, visit our Low Vision & Blindness page or give us a call at 719-476-8181.


Real Empowerment Podcast: Putting Veterans in Charge

In Episode 6 of the Real Empowerment Podcast, The Independence Center’s (The IC) Veteran in Charge (VIC) Manager Marsha Unruh and Veteran Coach Coordinator Ashley Billington stop by to talk about the program, which is a veteran-directed care program funded by the Veterans Administration (VA). The program helps veterans who can remain in their home choose the services and supports they need to stay in their home and community.

In the podcast, the program is discussed in depth, including:

  • How the program became part of The Independence Center.
  • Which counties The IC serves with the VIC program.
  • Who is eligible for the program.
  • Whether a veteran has to have a disability rating with the VA to qualify.
  • The role of an authorized representative.

To listen to the podcast, click below.

For more information on the VIC program, contact The IC at 719-471-8181.

Know Your Rights With Your Service Animals – Part 4

by Nikki Stewart

Photo of a swimmer with her service dogAir Carrier Access Act – Part 4


To round out the four part series on service animal laws we are concluding our “Know Your Rights With Your Service Animal” series by taking a look at what your rights are upon airplanes with the Air Carrier Access Act.

Where does the ADA allow my animal access?

Access for service animals permitted:

  • All U.S. air carriers
  • Foreign air carrier flights that originate or end in the U.S.

What is a Service Animal?

Rights extend to emotional support animals.  Definition includes miniature horses, pigs, monkeys. Contact your specific airline directly for documentation requirements to minimize complications prior to your departure as procedures may vary.

Can I be charged fees for allowing access to my service or support animal?

No additional fees, unless the animal causes actual damage


Can my animal be denied because of breed?

Not mentioned in the Air Carrier Access Act


Can my animal be denied based on fears or allergies of others?



What is a valid denial of my animal?

  • Animal’s size and weight
  • State and foreign country restrictions
  • Whether or not the animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others
  • Cause a fundamental alteration in the cabin service


What happens if someone misrepresents an animal as a service animal?
No Provisions



Who is responsible for enforcement?


Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings

Aviation Consumer Protection Division

1200 New Jersey Ave, SE

Washington, DC 20590

202-366-2220 | transportation.gov/airconsumer

Podcast: CNA Training Program

Colorado, along with the rest of the nation, is struggling with a caregiver crisis. Hospitals and other care facilities are already in desperate need of qualified RNs and Certified Nursing Aides (CNAs). To help address this need, The Independence Center bought a CNA Training Program (CNATP) in 2015. For those who are interested in entering the medical profession, getting a CNA license is the first step to a fulfilling career.

In Episode Five of the Real Empowerment Podcast, Advocacy Manager Becca Michael speaks with CNATP Office Assistant, Rebecca Hull, about the ins and outs of the program, including:

  • The time commitment
  • The curriculum
  • How to enroll
  • Available financial assistance

To listen to the podcast, click below.

For more information on the CNA Training Program, email cnaschool@the-ic.org or call 719-648-1020.

Know Your Rights With Your Service Animals – Part 3

by Nikki Stewart

Fair Housing Act- Part 3


Photo of a swimmer with her service dogIn the third part of our “Know Your Rights With Your Service Animal” series we take a look at the Fair Housing Act.

Where does the ADA allow my animal access?

Access for service animals and emotional support/assistance animals permitted:

  • Housing receiving federal financial assistance
  • State and local government housing
  • Private housing
  • Homeowner’s associations

What is a Service Animal?

Rights extend to companion and emotional support animals as well as service animals.

Can I be charged fees for allowing access to my service or support animal?

No, unless the animal causes actual damage

Can my animal be denied because of breed?

Yes, but only when the landlord’s insurance carrier refuses or substantially increases cost of coverage and no comparable insurance is available.

Can my animal be denied based on fears or allergies of others?


 What is a valid denial of my animal?

  • Determination that the animal presents a direct threat to the health and safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation
  • Undue financial and administrative burden
  • Would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s services

 What happens if someone misrepresents an animal as a service animal?
No Provisions

 Who is responsible for enforcement?

Department of Housing and

Urban Development Office of Fair Housing

and Equal Opportunity

451 7th St., SW, Room 5204

Washington, DC 20410-2000

800-669-9777 |  hud.gov/fairhousing

Looking for more information for Service animals?

Part 1: American’s with Disabilities Act

Part 2: Colorado Assistance Animal Law

Part 3: Fair Housing Act

Part 4: Air Carrier Access Act