Category Archives: Newsletter Fall 2015

Vietnam Veteran Pays It Forward in Teller County

Vincent Thoms

Vincent Thoms

Vincent Thoms is a Vietnam veteran who loves the A-frame home he has in Teller County. A widower who lives alone, Vincent requires the use of oxygen for a heart problem that probably started with exposure to Agent Orange during his service in Vietnam. He tires easily and doesn’t have the stamina to handle normal housework. It was starting to look for Vincent like remaining independent in his beloved home was at risk.


“It’s hard to admit you need help. For veterans, it is awful hard.” Thoms says, as he looks thoughtfully around the interior of his home.

After receiving a flyer from the Independence Center, Vincent learned about a new program designed to help veterans remain independent in their own homes as long as possible. The program, called Veteran in Charge, serves eligible veterans who need assistance with bathing, dr

essing, transferring, yardwork, transportation, cooking, medication management, etc. Veteran in Charge is a Veteran Directed – Home and Community Based Services (VD-HCBS) program that supplements, not replaces, Veterans Administration (VA) benefits.

“This program has been key to allowing Vincent to remain right where he wants, in his mountain home as a vital participant within his community,” Ashley Billington, Veteran Coach at the Independence Center, explains. “The best part is Vincent gets to determine how he spends his monthly budget. This is huge because Vincent is the expert on his own needs.”

Veterans of any age with a disability who need assistance to remain independent in their home are encouraged to start with their VA contact for an eligibility assessment. Veterans who are interested in the Veteran in Charge program may contact Ashley Billington at The Independence Center at (719) 476-3170.

Blind Athlete Hits Home Run With Beep Baseball

Consumer Mike Jackson poses with his mother


Mike Jackson and Vicky Norwood

First impression of Mike Jackson is that he is athletic. Second glance sees the white cane in his hand. Mike is an athlete who played semi-pro basketball and football prior to the loss of his sight three years ago. Within weeks of connecting with The IC as he came to terms with his blindness, staff and peers recruited Mike to play his first game of recreational beep baseball. Fast forward three years and Mike has just returned from helping the Colorado Storm team take home 6th place in the Beep Baseball World Series.

“It was exciting to see thousands of visually impaired athletes playing a sport as if we were normal athletes,” says Mike. “They actually looked at me as a person with special abilities instead of a person without [certain] abilities.” Being seen again as an athlete instead of a blind person is “what I learned from The Independence Center—that there’s more to life than just being disabled.”

Mike is now bringing the game to children at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. Beep baseball enables them to experience team sport. He figures they are learning, “if I can get through this, my teammate can get through this. Other people can get through this. . . . Those kids should never feel that their life is over because they have one disability. That’s what my whole purpose is [in coaching].” ~ JT

CEO Corner

Photo of Patricia Yeager, CEO

Patricia Yeager, Ph.D., CEO

StaffSupportAs I write this we are basking in the afterglow of our celebration luncheon of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act here in Colorado Springs.

October marks my four-year anniversary as CEO at The Independence Center. Looking back to four years ago at the lack of accessibility or awareness of the ADA, it was a little discouraging then. It was obvious there was a lot of work to be done in the Pikes Peak area.

As I set about changing the course of the Center, people began to join us. Today, we have a wonderful staff and building dedicated to working with others to create choice and independence. We also have several thriving community groups working together to create change in transit, housing and our local government’s response to the ADA.

Working together is the key concept here. All of us must sit, stand or lie (or however you show up in the world) in solidarity. When we focus our energies together on a change we want to make and stick to it, there is nothing we cannot change. Even in the Pikes Peak area.

We had 300 people attend the ADA luncheon celebration. People with disabilities were there. Local government officials, state legislators and other policy makers were there. I believe their eyes were opened to the reality that a new political power base is forming here in the Springs—a crossdisability power base. Not just those who are blind or deaf or have a physical or mental disability but all of us together showed up and sat together. With numbers like this and the law on our side, developers and policy makers are going to have to pay attention. They are going to have to obey the law as we hold them accountable.

It is up to us to use our organizing and systems change advocacy tools wisely. I’m looking forward to another four years of doing just that with all of you here at The Independence Center. ~ PY

Read about our ADA Celebration Award winners!

The IC’s ADA Celebration 2015 Award Winners

The IC’s 2015 ADA Celebration

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was established in 1990 and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, in order to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and ensure equal access, opportunities, and participation throughout America. 2015 marks the 25th Anniversary of the historical signing of the ADA.

The Independence Center came together with the local community to acknowledge and celebrate this amazing achievement for American Civil Rights. The ADA Celebration honored Colorado and El Paso County community companies, organizations, and government entities that have made strides to help the Pikes Peak Region become more inclusive for people with disabilities. It also served to communicate the importance of these basic human rights and the future direction for The IC’s advocacy issues.

A special thanks goes to El Paso County AND the City of Colorado Springs for having proclamations in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, stating their continued commitment to complying with, and furthering, the Act. Merv Bennett, President of the Colorado Springs City Council, read the City’s proclamation at our annual event. And, Amy Lathen, El Paso County Commissioner, was representing at our annual event as well to represent the Board of County Commissioners’ ADA proclamation.

Award Winners

In addition, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, The IC presented awards to the City of Colorado Springs’ ADA Office, El Paso County’s ADA Office, Accessible Communities Today (ACT) coalition, First Congregational Church of Colorado Springs, and Discount Tire Store at Woodmen Road and Powers Boulevard for complying with and furthering acceptance of the ADA. Read below for information about why each was honored with this award.

  • Church

    First Congregational Church Awardees

    First Congregational Church of Colorado Springs was recognized for using capital campaign funds to add an elevator to the church, which also happens to be one of the oldest church buildings in the city, making these type of changes especially difficult. This elevator has allowed wheelchair access to areas of the building that were inaccessible before. Now, the entire building is 95% accessible. And what makes this even more special is that churches are exempt from having to comply with the ADA! Present at our annual event to accept the award were Reverend Dr. Benjamin Broadbent and Siri Everett.



  • City

    City of Colorado Springs Awardees

    The City of Colorado Springs was recognized for hiring an ADA Coordinator, Michael Killebrew, in March 2014. The City’s ADA office has also been installing a LOOP system in the City Council chambers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, conducting a self-evaluation of city operations, and has become one of the first cities west of the Mississippi to update the iconic person in the wheelchair symbol to a more action-oriented figure. Accepting the award were Michael Killebrew, Title II ADA Coordinator and Brett Waters, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Director.



  • Church

    Discount Tire Store at Woodmen & Powers

    Discount Tire Store at Woodmen Road and Powers Boulevard was recognized for acting quickly to an inaccessibility complaint. Within a three-week time span, Discount Tire Store had a transformer relocated, the inaccessible stairs and curbs were jack hammered out and replaced with a beautiful accessible entrance, and then they poured a circular driveway to allow for easier access to the building! Accepting the award at our annual event were Pat Cary, Regional Maintenance Manager and Jim Douglas, Store Manager.



  • El Paso County was also recognized for their efforts to further the ADA. Those present to accept the award were Rob Hernandez, ADA Coordinator; Jim Reid, Executive Director Public Services Department; and Amy Lathen, El Paso County Commissioner. Among their accomplishments are:

    El Paso County recipients

    • Hired an ADA Coordinator, Rob Hernandez, in August 2014
    • Added 3 videophones at the Criminal Justice Center and 6 more are in process for installation at 6 other county locations
    • Established the El Paso County ADA Advisory Committee which includes 10 county members and 5 opinion leader members from the community, such as Accessible Communities Today (ACT) coalition and The Independence Center
    • Completed a wheelchair accessible viewing area and other significant accessibility upgrades at the El Paso County Fairgrounds
    • Instituted an online ADA grievance procedure

ACT Members accepting their award

  • Accessible Communities Today (ACT) coalition were recognized for their work with local businesses, agencies, and government entities to help collaborate, educate, and bring awareness to others on issues surrounding the Americans With Disabilities Act. Present to accept the award were Sharon King, John Monteith, Charles (Rick) Orthwein, and Dave May.




Video of The IC’s 2015 ADA Celebration

Affordable and Accessible Housing

"Affordable and Accessible Housing Needs and Barriers" report cover image

The IC recognizes that there is an extreme and drastic need for affordable and accessible housing in our community. With rising housing costs and income levels dropping below median wages, more and more people face challenges finding adequate housing that fits budget levels. For people with disabilities, location becomes a prominent factor, due to the requirement of close city transportation. When combining these needs with safety concerns, elderly persons’ needs and health concerns, community resources delays, and other obstacles, the barriers often cause homelessness and other significant issues such as depression and hopelessness, which in turn stifle independent living.

The Independence Center brought together many people facing these issues through focus groups, interviews, and community forums in order to highlight the vast needs that are causing strain in the community. Carrie Baatz, Community Advocacy Coordinator for The Independence Center, pulled these concerns, stories, and obstacles together to build a report detailing each issue, need, barrier, and recommendation to present to Colorado Springs and El Paso County officials, as well as to promote awareness and spark conversation and action. ~ NS


Affordable and Accessible Housing Report


  • Public education and advocacy
  • A sustained effort to build capacity for affordable and accessible housing
  • Building relationships and trust between service providers and housing providers
  •  Integrate affordable housing units with market-rate housing
  • Increase staff and availability of Code Enforcement Officers
  •  More personnel to provide education and enforcement regarding Fair Housing laws
  • Centralized method of tracking available affordable and accessible housing units
  • A greater spectrum of resources to adequately fulfill the needs in the Pikes Peak Region

Get Involved

People’s Access to Homes (PATH)believes everyone has a right to a space they call home. They are advocating for housing rights and increased affordable and accessible housing in the Pikes Peak Region. Meetings are at The Independence Center every Thursday from 3:00pm – 4:30pm.


Click here to read the report in it’s entirety.  Affordable_and_Accesible_Housing_Report Aug 2015

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