Tim Ashley with Tony Wilkins

Tim Ashley with Tony Wilkins at the 2017 ADA Celebration Luncheon

The following is the text from an impassioned speech that The IC’s Tim Ashley gave last year at The Independence Center’s Annual ADA Celebration Luncheon about one of the consumers he works with.

“My name is Tim Ashley, and I‘m an Independent Living Coordinator with Peer Support Emphasis here at The Independence Center. There are so many great stories we see and hear about every day at The IC, and I’m going to tell you about an amazing young man who found the help he was looking for in living a more independent life.

When Tony Wilkins first came to The IC, he was having a very hard time. During a trip to the beach some years back, a diving accident resulted in paralysis, and he was no longer able to use his arms or legs. As a person with quadriplegia, Tony’s life was forever changed. An avid fisherman and outdoor enthusiast, he loved spending time in nature, and he also enjoyed working on his computer. His loss of mobility and the inability to use his hands led to being disconnected from the activities he once participated in, along with many of the people he once socialized with. This isolation led Tony into a deep depression that weighed on him heavily.

When he first came to The IC, Tony joined the Spinal Cord Injury, or SCI group, which was intended to provide individuals newly living with a spinal cord injury the opportunity to attend support groups and activities, and to receive equipment necessary to help them live a more independent life. Tony was the first person to sign up for the Spinal Cord Injury Group, and the meetings gave him a reason to get out of the house, reengage, and start living again. In the groups, he met other individuals who had spinal cord injuries. He was able to share stories, find information and resources, and communicate with others who had already been through what he was experiencing. The impact on his life was huge. While in the peer support group, Tony and other members of the group went fishing, to an Air Force football game, and to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra performance. The communication and socialization aspect of these trips allowed Tony to reconnect, and helped lift his spirits, and Tony’s still active with the SCI group. In fact, he went on a fishing trip called “Fishing has no Boundaries” with our group last month. Next month, he will go fishing and camping for 2 days and 3 nights at “Wilderness on Wheels”. 

In addition to rebuilding a social network, Tony really wanted to go to college. I worked with Tony in hope of getting him set up to attend a local college. Up until this point, Tony wasn’t sure how to proceed with his goal of enrolling in college. When we began working together, Tony hit his stride and started advocating for himself. As time went on and Tony began to see the obstacles that sat between him and completion of a degree, doubt set in. Since Tony was unable to use his hands, he felt he wouldn’t be able to type on a keyboard or use a computer mouse, which most certainly would be a requirement of college. After considering the logistics, he decided that his disability would likely be too much of a hindrance on his ability to complete college. This was disappointing and frustrating, but the negative feelings didn’t last long.

Tony heard about a piece of assistive technology equipment that he thought showed promise in helping him to better use a computer for attending online classes. The purpose of the Jouse system is to make computers accessible to people who have lost the ability to use their hands, and to control a standard mouse or trackball. When Tony approached me about the Jouse system, I worked with our IT Specialist, AJ, and within the week, we began researching where to buy it. After a whopping $1,550, the Jouse system was on its way, Tony began using a computer again and he made the decision to go to college. He enrolled in a local community college and today can navigate his online classes and communicate with his classmates. He’s also been able to reconnect with the world, through the internet and in person, with the click of his Jouse 3 joystick and the Spinal Cord Injury support group.”

To learn more about the support groups, visit our support group webpage.