Making Voting Easier for People With Disabilities

People with Disabilities Voting at The ICby Gabe Taylor

On November 7th and 8th, The Independence Center made history after opening as the first “Highly Accessible Polling Place” in Colorado Springs. Turnout was better than expected with close to 800 voters showing up to cast their ballots. There were scores of first time voters, including a group of students from the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind (CSDB). After learning that The Independence Center was going to be serving as a voting location this year, CSDB made the decision to bring a group of voting age students to The IC to participate in a training session by the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Students were able to try out the accessible voting machines, before coming in on Election Day to vote.

First time voter Daniel Ratcliff, who works at The Independence Center and is blind, tells me that he was initially nervous going in to vote. When I ask him what he thought of the process, he tells me “It was well put together. It was very easy. I hadn’t even registered yet, and I was able to come into the room, register, and vote in the same place. And it only took me about 10 to 15 minutes, total.” He was especially happy that the voting machines were able to read his ballot in an audio format. Daniel says that voting is something he has wanted to do for years, and he’s happy to have finally been able to participate in the election process.

Here at The IC, it was great to see democracy in action, and it was especially remarkable to see such high participation among people with disabilities. According to the American Association of People with Disabilities, in the 2012 general election, people with disabilities voted 5.7% less than the general public. That is a huge discrepancy when considering the number of American’s with disabilities and the small margins that often determine the outcome of elections.

For people with disabilities, there are obstacles to voting that most people just aren’t aware of. For example, the lack of transportation to and from the polling place or the lack of polling workers trained in disability etiquette could mean the difference in whether or not someone votes. These factors are why it is so important to have highly accessible polling locations.

What comes next? Colorado Springs Municipal Elections will be held on April 4th and will provide another opportunity to have your voice heard. In some respects municipal elections are more important than both general and midterm elections, because the outcome directly impacts the community you live in. In this election, all City Council member District Seats will be on the ballot, and there will be a host of other matters that will be decided. So don’t miss this opportunity to help shape the direction of your community.

The IC Provides the Opportunity to Learn from Multiple Sclerosis Ambassador

by Gabe Taylor

On October 26th, The Independence Center hosted a discussion on Multiple Sclerosis (MS) with Tom Falconer, Ambassador for the Colorado-Wyoming Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Falconer, whose wife has MS, has been the primary care giver for his wife for the last 27 years.

During Falconer’s presentation, he discussed the symptoms, diagnosis, challenges, and long-term prognosis for people with MS. He explained that MS is by no means the end of life as you know it, and in fact can present relatively mild symptoms for some. For Falconer’s wife, though, the disease was debilitating. Within three year of her diagnosis, she was completely dependent on a wheel-chair for mobility.

When discussing Falconer’s presentation, Carol Johnson, Independent Living Specialist at The Independence Center, who has Multiple Sclerosis herself tells me “It helped me out tremendously, and everybody that went said it was just awesome.” She goes on to tell me that based on something Falconer said in his presentation, she was able to talk to her doctor and figure out that one of her medications was not working correctly.

Though much about MS is still unknown, one factor that all MS patients have in common is the degeneration of the myelin sheathing surrounding the nerves that transmit signals throughout the body. Falconer explained this complex process by comparing it to an electrical wire with worn out insulation. As the insulation becomes thinner and is eventually missing, the electricity is diverted from its intended location and terminates in the wrong place along the way. With MS, this results in mental degradation and the inability to effectively control the muscles. If you or a loved one has Multiple Sclerosis, or you would like to know more about this complex disease, The IC can help. To learn about our MS support group go to or contact Carol Johnson at 719-471-8181 x116.

The IC Receives National Recognition from FEMA

by Gabe Taylor

On September 16th, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representative Carrie Roberts presented The Independence Center with the Outstanding Inclusive Initiative in Emergency Management Award. FEMA, a U.S. government agency best known for its disaster recovery efforts, also focuses on emergency preparedness training. The award was given to The IC for building eighteen Emergency Preparedness Kits to help people with disabilities during emergencies. The effort was led by The IC’s Emergency Preparedness department. Contractor John Monteith and Board Member Pat Going accepted the award for their part in helping to pull this effort together.

The kits were developed with the help of a grant from the Daniels Fund. Each kit contains mobility and communication devices, personal heating and cooling equipment, eating and drinking products, and other items needed to address a range of disability needs. After completion, the kits were donated to the American Red Cross and other local groups.

When disaster strikes, each of these kits will make a huge difference for individuals in need. So congratulations to The IC’s Emergency Preparedness Department and to everyone who made this award possible.

For more information about The Independence Center’s Emergency Preparedness Department visit theicemergencywb


The IC Wins OIB Grant to Help People Experiencing Blindness

by Gabe Taylor

The Independence Center is pleased to announce that we’ve been awarded a three-year Older Individuals with Blindness (OIB) grant from the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The OIB grant will enable us to continue helping older individuals experiencing low vision or blindness to remain independently in their homes, and to continue their hobbies or activities. As of 2016, The Independence Center had 110 consumers actively participating in the OIB program.

As we age, the occurrence of vision loss becomes increasingly likely for everyone. For some, this experience can be isolating and extremely difficult, often times resulting in the loss of independence. Imagine going through your daily routine with limited sight, or the loss of sight altogether. For many, this transition makes it hard to maintain a job or live at home, and can lead to feelings of loneliness and separation from friends and family.

When discussing the importance of the OIB program with Jeanette Fortin, an OIB Specialist at The Independence Center who is blind herself, she tells a story about a consumer who she worked with a few years ago. After losing the ability to drive and read, the woman thought that she was going to end up in an assisted living facility. A friend referred her to The Independence Center where she attended one of the peer support groups. While there, she was able to meet other people, who like her, had lost part or all of their vision. By talking to these people and working with The Independence Center, she was able to learn ways to cope with her vision loss and gain knowledge about resources and programs available to help people experiencing blindness and vision loss. Also, with help from the Pikes Peak Area Council of Government (PPACG) grant, The IC was able to purchase a magnifier for the woman, which assisted her with reading. Now in her eighties, the woman is still independent.

When talking about the people that she has helped through the OIB program, Jeanette proudly says, “The whole point in what we do is to help seniors to continue to live independently, rather than feeling like they have to be put in assisted living.”

The OIB program at The Independence Center provides people age 55 or older with peer support groups, home visits, public outreach and education activities, assistive technologies, Braille instruction, as well as independent living and self-advocacy training. For so many, the OIB program is an important lifeline, and we are grateful to the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation for potentially renewing funding through September of 2019. If you or a loved one is experiencing blindness or loss of vision and feel that The OIB program might be right for you, visit or call Jeanette Fortin at 719-471-8181 x126 for more information.

Life Skills Class Gives Students a Taste for Cooking

by Gabe Taylor

As a group of students in The Independence Center’s Wednesday cooking class prepare for their lesson, instructor Edgar Morales asks them what the first step is when preparing food. In unison, the class enthusiastically responds with “wash your hands.” Then the fun begins. On the menu is baked ham, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. Most of the students have been in Edgar’s cooking classes before, so there is a real sense of community. As you would expect, the students joke around with each other when not cooking, and overall really seem to enjoy learning how to cook.

Melissa, a shy girl who tells me how much she likes football, seems especially involved in the class. She tells me how much she has learned in her time in the class and proudly explains that when she goes home now, she knows how to cook for her family. She seems especially proud of making a homemade lasagna recently for a potluck at her church.

When it’s time to start cooking, everyone plays a part. Edgar directs the show like the conductor of an orchestra. Everyone takes turns working together as the meal comes together. In the process of preparing the mashed potatoes, there is a minor problem. The boiled potatoes don’t seem to be mashing with the hand held potato masher. Quick thinking saves the day as the class decides the potatoes need to be chopped up and mixed with an electric mixer. In the end, everything turns out great and students are able to sit down and enjoy the meal that they worked so hard to prepare.

Though friendship and fun are one of the byproducts of the class, The IC’s cooking class was started for the purpose of giving people with disabilities the knowledge and skills they need to live independently. In the case of this class, most of the students are young adults transitioning into adulthood. When I ask Edgar Morales what the purpose of the class is, he says “If their parents are not in the house, or if they want to live independently, they can be able to cook and live, and to be able to do things without their parents doing it for them.” By teaching real-world skills, The Independence Center prepares these young adults for living on their own.

Aside from the cooking class, there are numerous other independent living skills classes taught at The Independence Center. Some of the classes include Full Life Ahead, Healthy Relationships, Living Well with a Disability, Positive Attitude and Overcoming Barriers, Art Expression, and Money Management. This is just few of the many classes that are available, and new classes are being added all the time. If you or a loved one is interested in taking classes at The Independence Center, call Edgar Morales at 719-471-8181 x168.