The Independence Center Teaches UCCS Public Affairs Students how to Affect Change Through Advocacy

UCCS Forum Panelists

Panelists left to right Billy Allen (The Independence Center), Carrie Baatz (The Independence Center), Michael Hazard (People’s Access to Homes), Andrew Winders (Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation), Gail Nehls (Amblicab) and Maggie Sims (Rocky Mountain ADA Center)

About 40 public affairs students were introduced to The Independence Center at a community discussion hosted by UCCS School of Public Affairs on October 29, 2015. Attendees were given theoretical and practical perspectives along with real life stories about policy barriers for people with disabilities.
The Community Discussion focused on Advocacy and Policy Development Supporting Independent Living for People with Disabilities. Panelists were: The Independence Center’s Carrie Baatz (Community Organizer), Billy Allen (Board Member), People’s Access to Homes’ (PATH) Michael Hazard, Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation’s Andrew Winders, Amblicab’s Gail Nehls and Rocky Mountain ADA Center’s Maggie Simms.
Billy presented on the history of education and policies affecting people with disabilities in the United States. Carrie presented on the issue of accessible and affordable housing and how community organizing can affect this issue in Colorado Springs. Michael spoke about his background in law and education and affecting change at grassroots level, especially now with PATH, a community group formed out of the community organizing efforts of The IC.
“Nonprofits sometimes don’t take their responsibility for advocacy seriously,” Patricia Yeager, CEO of The IC, said after the forum. “Nonprofits can be so service focused that advocacy is neglected.”
Michael Hazard (PATH) talked about encountering people who were surprised that The Independence Center has effectively broadened the spectrum and included people with disabilities on all areas of the spectrum. He spoke of going out to talk with people to encourage them to become civically engaged regarding the sit-lie ordinance.
“When I first started to tell people ‘hey, we’re working with the homeless, we’re working with sit/lie [proposed ordinance], we’re working with [people with] disabilities, we’re working with affordable housing, people started to say ‘but it’s The Independence Center’ [in a questioning/confused way].”
He starts to smile.
“We went ‘yeah’.” Michael draws out the word emphatically and nods vigorously, to “knowing” chuckles from the audience. “That’s the interesting thing about what The Independence Center has done here.”
Patricia Yeager is one of the “knowing”. She says, “The Independence Center is different. Similar to the starfish story is the metaphor of the beach. We can sweep the beach or we can remodel the beach and make it better. We can’t do this for people with disabilities. They have to do it themselves. We can help. We’re committed to giving them a voice.”


DVR Public Stakeholder’s Meeting a Welcome Forum

DVRLeadership, staff and consumers of The Independence Center (The IC) as well as community members and DVR vendors attended a public stakeholder’s meeting hosted at The IC regarding the merge of Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) and Division of Vocational Rehab (DVR). CDLE and DVR leadership was well represented at the meeting on October 13. The two agencies have been working since March 2015 to make this merger happen as seamlessly as possible. The meeting was called to solicit public input regarding needs and services.

The Independence Center supports the merger. Patricia Yeager, CEO of The IC describes the goal of the merger as ultimately “a job for all who would need one,” while better using government resources to serve persons with and without disabilities looking for work. Under the new merger, if a person with a disability needs additional services centered around functional limitations, DVR staff can join the CDLE team to provide services for the person in the Workforce System. Previously, persons with disabilities were served completely separate from CDLE. In the case of disability rights, Yeager sees “separate services” as not equal.

Yeager addressed vision with panel members from CDLE and DVR. Yeager’s vision for persons with disabilities to be able to enter through the same door as everyone else at CDLE is a powerful place to start in accessibility and inclusion of DVR clients at CDLE. Ellen Golembek, Executive Director of the Department of Labor and Employment, agreed that CDLE shares that goal and cautioned it will take some time.

Ten public meetings were scheduled for statewide input and the meeting at The Independence Center was 8th of the 10 meetings. CDLE and DVR held the final wrap-up meeting in Denver on October 21 from 5:30 – 7:00 PM at DVR’s new space, 633 17th Street, Suite 1500, Denver, CO 80202. The CDLE and DVR summarized findings with a final report at this meeting.

First Annual Briefing for State Legislators Held at The Independence Center

State Rep. Teri Carver speaks at the First Annual Legislative Breakfast at The Independence Center

State Rep. Teri Carver speaks at the First Annual Legislative Breakfast at The Independence Center

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO, September 29, 2015 – The first annual Legislative Breakfast occurred at The Independence Center (The IC) September 28, 2015. Six state legislators attended the briefing where eight specific issues faced by people with disabilities were presented and discussed. Presentations on each issue were given by staff members of The Independence Center. Discussions included input from staff, legislators and The IC board members. The briefing was moderated by Patricia Yeager, CEO of The IC.

Issues on the table were housing, transit, employment, community transitions (referring to transition out of nursing homes into independent living), home modifications/ assistive technology, emergency preparedness, rural issues and home health. Each issue was framed as an opportunity for the legislators to observe that cost savings to the state and independent living for those with disabilities are not mutually exclusive.

“If we can get in the door, if we can get on the bus, if employers will hire us, we will be taxpayers,” Patricia Yeager, CEO stated regarding the need for accessibility in buildings, transportation, and the private employment sector.

The briefing took on a notable tone of dialogue, with legislators often providing comments, asking questions, and providing status updates regarding certain issues. Current issues were raised in this manner such as the status of CDOT Bustang collaboration with El Paso County and the impending merger of the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.


State Sen. Kent Lambert Speaks at the First Annual Legislative Breakfast at The IC

State Sen. Kent Lambert Speaks at the First Annual Legislative Breakfast at The IC

What became apparent during the briefing was the significant interrelationship between the issues, and that solutions to one issue may very well serve as solutions to other issues accordingly. For example, housing is interrelated with community transitions. Because the Pikes Peak region lacks affordable, accessible housing, oftentimes people with disabilities reside unnecessarily in nursing homes, costing the state thousands of dollars each month in Medicaid costs. Working to solve the problem of lack of affordable housing inventory will also help save money in Medicaid dollars to nursing homes.

The breakfast discussion remained largely non-political and incorporated facts as well as anecdotal stories. For instance, Rep. Terri Carver spoke of experience from her early work as a 19-year-old in home health care and Rep. Janak Joshi spoke of his experience as a physician treating patients with transportation needs in rural areas. The officials were clearly engaged, concerned, and expressed gratitude to The IC with an ovation at the conclusion.

State legislature attendees were Sen. Kent Lambert (R), Rep. Terri Carver (R), Rep. Janak Joshi (R), Rep. Pete Lee (D), Rep. Paul Lundeen (R) and Rep. Gordon Klingenshmitt (R).

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The Independence Center Awards $75,000 in Funding for Local Projects

A representative from Urban Gardens receives the grant check from an IC board member.

A representative from Urban Gardens receives the grant check from an IC board member.

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO, September 22, 2015 –The Independence Center (The IC) announces its second year of The IC Fund grant awards totaling nearly $75,000 for local community projects that benefit persons with disabilities. Checks will be awarded on Sept. 30, 2015 in a private ceremony with a light lunch being served in the Dart Room at The IC from 12:00 – 1:00 pm. Members of The IC board and committee members will be presenting checks. Members of the press are invited.
“It’s worth noting that the committee did not choose projects only from El Paso County. We are committed to serving people with disabilities in six counties in the Pikes Peak region and these awards affirm that commitment,” said Patricia Yeager, CEO at The IC.
Funding will benefit citizens of El Paso, Park, Kit Carson, Cheyenne, and Lincoln counties.


The 11 successful applicants and the amount of grant funds awarded are:
1. Rocky Mountain Rural Health (RMRH) (Fairplay): $5,000; Funds will pay for a needs assessment regarding the size and location of the Park County disabled population to address service gaps.
2. Prairie Family Center (PFC) (Burlington): $5,000; Funds will allow PFC to continue conducting several daily living skills classes for people with disabilities.
3. Pikes Peak Urban Gardens: $5,780; Funding will make the Harlan Wolfe Ranch accessible by improving pathways, building an accessible greenhouse, toolshed, picnic area and more.
4. Amblicab: $10,000; Funds expand the “Engage and Explore” program, by providing nearly 350 recreational trips for disabled adults and children living in the Pikes Peak Region. Update: Amblicab has changed their name to Envida.
5. Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind: $10,000; Grant will buy equipment and uniforms for the athletic department, including Special Olympics, goalball, volleyball and football teams.
6. Lincoln Community Hospital Care Center (Hugo): $10,000; Funding will provide an accessible door that will allow residents to access the new “Healing Garden” independently.
7. Community Transit Coalition, submitted by Women’s Resource Agency: $8,000; Funds an economic impact study to frame transit as not only a community need but an economic driver.
8. Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association (CSAHA): $5,000; Funds allow CSAHA Jr. Tigers Sled Hockey to purchase equipment to extend their program to more people with disabilities.
9. Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA)/ Colorado Springs Chapter: $10,000; Funds an educational outreach program and the extension of an incentive program for businesses that install a loop or other assistive listening device or captioning program.
10. Rocky Mountain Wildlife Foundation (Guffey): $6,830; Funds improving walkways between animals’ enclosures to make traversing easier for those with walkers, wheelchairs or crutches.
11. Educating Children of Color: $5,000; Grant will fund CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation), American Sign Language interpretation services, and tactile interpretation services for those who are deaf/blind at the 9th Annual Educating Children of Color Summit to be held at Colorado College on 1/16/16.

A representative from Rocky Mountain Wildlife Foundation expresses gratitude to The IC board and committee of The IC Fund.

A representative from Rocky Mountain Wildlife Foundation expresses gratitude to The IC board and committee of The IC Fund.

History of The IC Fund
The IC Fund was initially set up and invested in 2011. In 2013, The IC Fund committee went through training and worked with a foundation consultant to set up the rules. The first competition and awards totaling $75,000 occurred in 2014. Recipients in 2014 included Blue Star Recyclers, Friends of El Paso County Nature Center, Lake George Community Park and Colorado Veterans Resource Coalition. The process begins in June of each year, when letters of intent are submitted and ends in September with The IC board approvals. All nonprofit organizations in the six county Pikes Peak region are eligible to apply. A committee of eight community members with disabilities decides upon the proposals that will be sent to the board for approval.
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The Independence Center Serves Up Accessibility Training for Colorado Red Cross

Pat Going leading the training class for The Red Cross Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities. At what kind of training would you look around the room and see county officials, disability training consultants, service dogs, Red Cross district officials, and people with disabilities? You would be at a special training—the first of its kind in Colorado actually—an emergency preparedness training for Colorado Red Cross chapters emphasizing accessibility for persons with disability. This groundbreaking training was put on by The Independence Center, the hub of the disability community in the Pikes Peak region.

The Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires brought to the forefront the need for an understanding of accessibility for persons with disabilities. The Pikes Peak region began to understand that when persons with disabilities are evacuated from danger zones, significant accessibility and etiquette issues arise.

The Independence Center has risen to the occasion to educate local officials and Red Cross staff with help from two grants, one from Disability-Benefit Support Contract Committee (DBSCC) and one from The Daniels Fund. The two grants worked synergistically; the DBSCC grant funded the production of a training video and The Daniels Fund grant paid for the creation of Emergency Preparedness Disability Kits to be given to all the Colorado Red Cross chapters.

The first screening of the new video was held during the training for the Southeastern Colorado Red Cross on September 9, 2015. Trainings for the other Red Cross chapters will follow. At the September 9th training, local Red Cross staff were presented with the first Emergency Preparedness Disability Kit, a kit valued at $1,200 worth of accessibility items that may be needed at shelters holding evacuees.

Persons with disabilities who are concerned about their own personal level of preparedness for an emergency can download a “Personal Emergency Preparedness Workbook” from The Independence Center free of charge here.

The IC Helps with Video Phone Testing for El Paso County

Mathew Ruggles using the video phone at The El Paso County Citizens Service Center.

Mathew Ruggles using the video phone at The El Paso County Citizens Service Center.

The Deaf & Hard of Hearing program of The Independence Center is involved in making telephone communication more accessible to the deaf community in the Pikes Peak Region. Matthew Ruggles and Angela Tenorio, deaf and hard of hearing program staff at The IC, helped with testing the new video phones at the Pikes Peak Workforce Center in August 2015. Ruggles explained that the video phones help people with auditory disabilities have equal access to telephone communication. Video phones provide the ability for a person who is deaf to connect with a sign language interpreter via video. The interpreter then translates sign language to spoken voice to the person on the other end of the line. Phones are being installed in other El Paso County buildings such as the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center, the Citizens Service Center, and Department of Motor Vehicle locations. The IC continues to advocate for civil and governmental accountability with ADA compliance and is committed to providing expertise with disability access concerns when invited to assist by civil or governmental entities.