CEO Corner: Everyone Needs a Place to Call Home

Housing is a big issue for everyone in the Pikes Peak region! Photo of Patricia Yeager, CEO of The ICThe cost to buy or rent a home is sky high with no end in sight. For people with disabilities, finding housing is even more daunting if there is a need for mobility access, public transit access, and/or affordability. It’s a triple whammy for sure!

Currently, The IC nursing home transition program has over 25 people waiting for accessible housing units so they can transition out of nursing homes and live in the community. People who are chronically homeless often have disabilities such as mental illness, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical disabilities. Add to that an aging population on their way to having mobility, sight, or hearing disabilities, and it is a recipe for disaster. So The IC is working to address the growing housing crisis in two ways: education/advocacy and services.


Through our Advocacy department, The IC addresses many barriers, including housing. The IC staff attends meetings and speaks to city and county staff, developers, and public policy makers about the extreme need for units that are accessible and affordable. We are working to educate the State on the need for vouchers that cover more of the cost of rising rents, without reducing the number of vouchers.

We are actively recruiting builders to construct single and multi-family housing using universal design (UD). We’ve also published and distributed three issue briefs that address accessible and affordable housing. In the first brief, Making Colorado Springs More Livable for Everyone via Universal Design (, we note that millennials and seniors want similar features in housing – such as open spaces and wider doorways – so they can stay in their homes through many life changes. The second brief, Understanding and Asking for Universal Design (, explains UD, encourages home buyers to ask for universal design principles, and presents data that supports the need for this type of housing. The third brief, The Promise of Visitability (, calls for multi-unit or multi-home developments to be built in a way that allows friends and family of all ages and abilities to visit. This includes a no-step entrance, wider halls, and one larger bathroom on the main floor. Check out our short but informative briefs at each of the links above, and please feel free to share them.

Housing Services

Over the past year, The IC has become one of the largest managers of housing vouchers in the state. Our three housing coordinators have taken on 420 vouchers across eight housing programs that serve persons with disabilities and people who are homeless. Later this year, we anticipate taking over another 100 or so Veteran housing vouchers. However, in this hot housing market, it’s a challenge to find landlords who will take a voucher when they can get much more money by charging regular rents. So we’re actively searching for landlords who are open to renting to those with vouchers at the current rate, and helping them make their units accessible to as many people as is practical.

But we don’t stop there! Our housing staff also performs safety evaluations, assists with voucher paperwork, and helps consumers understand how much they must cover over the amount of the voucher. The IC also maintains a list of more affordable apartment buildings with accessible units. We give these to consumers who then make calls to see if there’s an available unit that meets their needs and budget. To keep from losing units, our staff meets with new building owners or managers to help them understand the positive impact of the vouchers currently accepted in that building.

Even as the housing market shrinks, The IC staff is working hard to expand the number of accessible housing units in the community so that all of us have a place to call home.

Proving That Deaf CAN!

Image: Sharon VonFeldt

by Amber Carlton


When Denver resident Susan Haney retired from the post office after 44 years, she wanted to do something meaningful,

“I want to show the Deaf community we can do this job. Yes, there are barriers but that doesn’t mean we can’t overcome them.” – Sharon VonFeldt, CNA Studentso she signed up for a Certified Nursing Aide (CNA) course in Denver. But she soon ran into a roadblock: She was the only Deaf student in a course that didn’t offer accommodations like American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation. Frustrated by the communication barrier, she dropped out.

Not the type to give up easily, Susan got in touch with Matthew Ruggles, Independent Living Specialist at The IC, about whether its CNA Training Program (CNATP) would be able to accommodate her. Matthew passed her question to Indy Frazee, Home Health Director, who then contacted Rebecca Hull, Office Assistant at the CNATP. Before long, a single accommodation request had morphed into a dedicated summer course open to both hearing and d/Deaf and hard of hearing (d/Deaf/HOH) students.

Rebecca and Peggy Hernandez, CNATP Coordinator, worked together to ensure that the course was understandable and accessible, including ASL interpretation, tutoring, help with note taking, prepping the clinical site, and setting expectations.

Soon after the course was announced, calls and emails started coming in from individuals in Colorado and throughout the country. One student, Tissa Abey Koon, even made the journey from Maryland to participate in the course. In the end, eight hearing students, seven d/Deaf/ HOH students, and one service dog worked together over four weeks to complete their coursework and clinicals.

“It was great to see the connection form between the hearing and Deaf students as they learned how to communicate with each other, practiced together, and learned together,” said Rebecca.

For Susan Haney, the drive from Denver was worth it after her first CNA course experience. “This time around there was an interpreter and I jumped at the opportunity,” she says.

Although some may question how individuals who are d/Deaf/HOH can work in the medical field, Rebecca sees it as an extension of their natural abilities. “The medical field is very visual,” she notes. “Someone who relies heavily on their hearing may miss crucial body language that a Deaf person easily picks up on because we’re so used to relying on visual cues.”

The CNATP hopes to offer the course again next summer. In the meantime, staff are working with employers to encourage them to hire the graduates.

“I’m just a big believer in ‘Deaf Can,’ and I think that the students in our class are going to go on to make great CNAs,” Rebecca says. “When it comes to hiring a Deaf or hard of hearing employee, there are barriers, yes. But The Independence Center can give employers the tools and training to overcome them. Just give us a call!”

If you are interested in becoming a CNA or an employer in need of a Deaf CNA, contact us at 719-648-1020 or

Information and Referral Q&A

Image: Photos of Jaime HArrell and Maritta Coffeyby Amber Carlton


For most consumers of The IC, the first person they talk to is Maritta Coffey, Information and Referral (I&R) Specialist. Each month, she connects with anywhere from 200-300 people from Colorado Springs and The IC’s six county catchment area. But what is Information and Referral exactly? We sat down with Maritta and Jaime Harrell, IL Program Manager, to find out.

Can you explain what I&R is and what it does?

Jamie Harrell (JH): It’s one of the five core services of the Centers for Independent Living (CIL) that every CIL across the country offers to their communities. So no matter which CIL you go to, you’ll find it there.

Maritta Coffey (MC): Through I&R, we provide resources and referrals so that individuals with disabilities can maintain, obtain, or become independent.

Is I&R just for people with disabilities?

JH: I&R is unique in that we offer disability-related resources to anybody of any age – community members, agencies, businesses, individuals with or without disabilities. It’s really a resource for the whole community, not just for people who have disabilities. So if you are invested with people with disabilities, you should be reaching out to The IC to gain access to these resources and find connections.

How can someone connect with I&R?

MC: People can call, email, or walk in. For calls and emails, I respond to them with resources and information. If someone walks in, they just check in at the front desk and fill out their required paperwork. Then they meet with me and we talk about their situation and what resources are available to potentially help them.

Do people have to know what they want or need before they contact I&R?

JH: A lot of times when people come in, they don’t know what they want. They just know that they want support in learning skills or finding resources, support groups, housing, or a job. And they don’t know those next steps. So that’s where I&R comes
in. We help people look at the bigger picture and figure out what the resources are in the community and what the resources are at The IC. We help them navigate that process and connect people to the next steps.

Is it easy to get them the resources they need?

MC: For some things, yes. But for other things, there are sometimes other barriers that may be keeping them from achieving their goals. If they’re looking for housing, for example, there might be some other things they need to take care of first. So let’s say they don’t have good credit. We’ll give them information on how to fix that. Depending on the situation, it takes time to sit down and talk to them and figure out how to move forward.

Do you prefer to talk directly to the potential consumer, or can a caregiver handle it for them?

MC: We always try to talk directly to the person with the disability, whenever possible. It’s not always about giving out information that you can just Google. It’s figuring out what else they need to live independently. So we want to work towards helping people with that and it sometimes takes some time. And their participation is oh-so-important because it’s driven by them and what they want to do. People really like that they are going to be empowered.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

MC: I’m always excited when I talk to someone and then I see them come in later and they’re changing and happy and really independent. It’s absolutely genuine and it’s all them doing it. They’re thriving because they’re in control. It’s life-changing to see that.

If you’d like to learn more about the disability-related information and resources The IC offers, call Maritta at 719-471-8181, email her at, or just drop in!

Annual ADA Event: Advancing Disability-Friendly Health Care

Man in wheelchair talking to mayor of Colorado Amber Carlton


What if you visited your doctor and weren’t able to navigate through the hallway, get onto the exam table, or see over the receptionist’s counter? If you’ve never had an experience like this, it might be hard to imagine. But these are the kinds of barriers that people with disabilities face every day when trying to access health care. So for The Independence Center’s annual ADA Celebration Luncheon this year, the focus was on “Advancing Disability-Friendly Health Care.”

Each year, the luncheon celebrates the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which took place on July 26, 1990. A crucial turning point in the disability rights movement, this landmark legislation established a legal framework to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in employment, to ensure that buildings and paths of travel are accessible, and to provide reasonable accommodations.

At this year’s event, which was held July 26 at the Hotel Eleganté Resort and Conference Center with over 270 people in attendance, The IC examined the need for more accessible medical services for people with disabilities here in Colorado and around the country. Katie Pelton, anchor at local news station KKTV, emceed the event and a variety of speakers told their personal stories about their experiences with accessibility in medical care.

The keynote speaker was June Isaacson Kailes, MSW, LCSW, a highly respected disability rights advocate and consultant. Recognized worldwide as one of the original leaders in the Independent Living movement, she took a humorous look at the barriers people with disabilities face when trying to access medical care. Her presentations featured amusing cartoons depicting crowded waiting rooms without accessible spaces, difficulties getting through hallways, accessible exam rooms used as storage, and the challenges of wheelchair users being examined in their wheelchairs.

Betty Jo Sjoberg, a consumer of The IC, recounted why she nominated her medical provider, Matthews-Vu Medical Group, during The IC’s Accessible Medical Equipment Giveaway last year. The practice received a Hoyer lift and an accessible exam table last year from the IC Fund for Persons with Disabilities.

“The adaptive medical equipment makes it so much better for us, safer and also more comfortable,” Betty Jo said. “When you have a disability and you already feel different, and then you go into a medical practice and they’re scurrying to find a way to accommodate you, you start to feel very self-conscious. To have things in place, I cannot express to you what a difference that makes. We feel, I think, more apt to talk and share our concerns with our medical professionals.”

During the event, Patricia Yeager, CEO of The IC, announced that another $75,000 will be invested this year to make dental care disability-friendly. “What we’re planning, is to work with dental health care providers to expand accessible dental services to people with disabilities here in Colorado through another medical equipment giveaway,” she said.

The entire event can be viewed on The IC’s Youtube channel at Make sure to subscribe while you’re there! And mark your calendars for next year’s ADA Celebration, which will be held on Friday, July 21, 2020.

Test Your Disability Knowledge!

Chances are you know someone with a disability or have a disability yourself. But how much do you know about the facts and issues surrounding disabilities? Take this quiz to find out! (Answers are below but no peeking!)

1. How many people in the U.S. live with a disability?

a. 10 million
b. 22 million
c. 57 million
d. 100 million

2. It’s better to ask a person with a disability if they want assistance before jumping in to help with everyday activities. True or false?

3. Only people who are unable to walk use wheelchairs. True or false?

4. Most disabilities are not easily visible. True or false?

5. Which of the following is the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition?

a. Depression
b. Anxiety Disorder
c. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
d. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

6. Which of these is required for a service animal?

a. Have specific certification
b. Wear identification (such as a vest or tag)
c. Both of the above
d. Neither of the above

7. Signing up for local emergency alerts will give you access to the most up-to-date information about emergencies. True or false?

8. Self-advocacy and system advocacy are the same thing. True or false?

Disability Quiz Answers

How did you do? Find out below.

1. Answer: C

About 57 million people in the U.S. live with at least one disability, making the disability community the largest marginalized group. One in five people will acquire a disability during their lifetime. (2013-2017 American Community Survey)

2. Answer: True

Don’t assume what people with disabilities can or cannot do. Ask before you assist and be willing to help if they tell you that they need support.

3. Answer: False

Mobility disabilities fall on a spectrum; some people who use wheelchairs may be able to stand or walk short distances.

4. Answer: True

Most disabilities are invisible. Examples include learning disabilities, chemical sensitivities, and chronic pain.

5. Answer: B

18% of adults have an Anxiety Disorder, involving persistent, excessive fear or worry in everyday situations.

6. Answer: D

Service animals must be individually trained to perform the tasks needed by the owner, but no specific certification or identification is required.

7. Answer: True

You can sign up for emergency alerts at Go to Emergency Notifications and sign up for reverse 911 calls and/or text alerts.

8. Answer: False

Self-advocacy involves owning your personal rights and responsibilities, speaking up for yourself, and making decisions about your life. System advocacy is identifying and addressing problems at the systems level; it may lead to new or changed laws, policies, and procedures.

There’s a lot to learn and know about disabilities, which is why The IC offers a variety of trainings that cover topics such as these. If you know of a business, school, church, or other organization that would benefit from disability training, call our Advocacy department at 719-471-8181 for more information.

Making Dental Care Accessible

by Amber Carlton


Studies show that oral health is an important part of maintaining overall health. Image: Dentist talking to man in dental chairBut for people with disabilities, finding accessible dental care can be a real challenge and may lead to them forgoing routine visits to the dentist.

The need for accessible dental practices was brought to light during a series of focus groups conducted by The IC to gain an understanding of real-life experiences with dental care. The results were compiled into a report titled, “Creating Disability-Friendly Dental Practices.” Download the report at

The report shows that people with disabilities face many obstacles to obtaining accessible dental care, including transportation or parking issues, narrow or small offices, denial of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, inaccessible paperwork, confusion about medical instructions, trauma triggers, and negative attitudes about disability.

To address this issue, The IC, through its IC Fund, has awarded $75,000 worth of accessible dental equipment to five local dental practices, two of which are nonprofits, in the Pikes Peak Region this year. Selected practices received a wheelchair lift, medical masks that allow patients to read lips, and other tools and resources that can make the experience of going to the dentist easier and more comfortable for people with disabilities.

To view the recipients of the equipment, CLICK HERE.