Tag Archives: advocacy

Colorado Commission for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Presents Susan J Elliott Award to The IC

Angie Tenorio and Billy Allen smile for the camera holding the Susan J Elliott Award for Outstanding Service

Angie Tenorio and Billy Allen smile for the camera holding the Susan J Elliott Award for Outstanding Service

Angie Tenorio, Coordinator for our Deaf & Hard of Hearing Department and Billy Allen, Board Chair for The Independence Center, accepted the Susan J Elliott award for Outstanding Service from the Colorado Commission for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Thursday evening.

The Independence Center is humbled by this award and so proud that our CEO, Patricia Yeager, our Board of Directors, and our Deaf & Hard of Hearing Department have made services for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Community a priority at The Independence Center. As we know, our entire community benefits from this, not just those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Way to go and congratulations! 

Press Release: The Independence Center Presents Disability Access Kit to Colorado Red Cross Headquarters

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO, November 23, 2015 – The Independence Center presented an Emergency Preparedness Access and Functional Needs Kit to the Colorado Red Cross headquarters on November 12, 2015. The kit contains over 45 accessibility items to assist seniors and people with disabilities with functional or access needs in an emergency evacuation shelter situation. Made possible by a grant from the Daniel’s Fund, The Independence Center is creating over 20 of these kits with an accompanying instruction manual. Each kit is valued at $1,300 and contains items to assist with eating/drinking, mobility, hearing/communication, low vision, service animals and facility barriers to accessibility. The kits are being distributed to Colorado Red Cross Chapters, county emergency preparedness managers and independent living centers.

“This kit of assistive devices will be invaluable when they set up an emergency shelter because these items are typically not provided, or quite frankly, even thought of,” Pat Going, contractor for The Independence Center said.

The Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires brought to the forefront the need for an understanding of accessibility for persons with disabilities. When persons with disabilities are evacuated from danger zones, significant accessibility and etiquette issues arise.

John Monteith, independent contractor for The Independence Center who created and assembled the kits stated, “Having a professional and personal perspective as an occupational therapist with a spinal cord injury, I can relate to how important these items are for helping those with access or functional needs while they are at a disaster shelter.”

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 Access and Functional Needs Kit to be given to all the Colorado Red Cross chapters.

The accessibility assessment and training video is available for viewing online here.



About The Independence Center

The Independence Center is a local nonprofit organization that provides traditional and self-directed home health care, independent living, and advocacy services for people with disabilities.  These services range from providing peer support, skills classes, and employment assistance to individual and systems advocacy. The IC’s mission is to work with people with disabilities, their families, and the community to create independence so all may thrive.

Press Release: People’s Access to Homes Emerges from The Independence Center Community Organizing Efforts

People's Access to Homes logoCOLORADO SPRINGS, CO, November 23, 2015 – The Independence Center housing study from December 2014 – April 2015 engendered a new community organizing group in Colorado Springs called People’s Access to Homes (PATH), which continues to coalesce while fighting the proposed Sit/Lie Ordinance. Affordable, accessible housing for people with disabilities is a key issue of The Independence Center and Carrie Baatz, Community Organizer at The Independence Center (The IC) has been studying it and organizing around it for nearly a year.

“A home is that bedrock of your existence, where you rest each day at the end of the day, where you recover from illnesses, where you retreat and spend time with those close to you,” Carrie Baatz, Community Organizer at The Independence Center (The IC), says.

Baatz undertook the issue of housing from the community organizing office of The IC. Facilitating focus groups with other organizations such as Tessa, Springs Rescue Mission and Women’s Resource Agency; interviews and community forums, Baatz developed a formal report called Affordable and Accessible Housing Needs and Barriers: Community Voices in the Pikes Peak Region, which can be found online at http://bit.ly/theic2015housingreport.

In addition to the formal report, The Independence Center facilitated the emergence of a dedicated group of individuals to have a voice in the discussion and a place at the table to help drive change in the Pikes Peak region. These individuals joined together and created a community organizing group with the name People’s Access to Homes (PATH). Many of these people have personal, powerful stories of barriers to accessible, affordable housing. Many have been influenced by such stories.

Baatz says, “Being a part of this process at The Independence Center out of which PATH emerged has been life changing for me.” As for the group members, who essentially have chosen themselves, she tells, “I look up to them. They are all so articulate and talented and self-aware.”

Perhaps a mark of a true community movement, most PATH members happen not to be consumers of The Independence Center. PATH is still coalescing as a force, working on finding its common goal and long term vision. Broadly, this includes creating more opportunities for housing that meet people’s needs. The idea that everyone has a right to a space they call home is what motivates the members of PATH. PATH sees housing not as a problem, but through a positive lens: as a long term solution to many problems, one of which is the city’s homelessness problem.

While focused on creating long term solutions, PATH’s gauges its success by short term goals. The immediate goal of PATH is to see the Colorado Springs Sit/Lie City Ordinance fail. PATH is opposing this ordinance because it unfairly targets people who are homeless, and it would distract resources and energy from better solutions (namely, developing affordable and accessible housing). Making sitting illegal in certain places would negatively impact people with disabilities, and in the current draft, a person would have to provide “confirmation” of a medical disability as an affirmative defense.

During recent City Council meetings, various members of PATH showed up. Michael Hazard (PATH member with a background in law) shared on November 11, 2015 about the discrimination against the homeless in the Sit/Lie Ordinance and asked City Council to postpone the vote until a suitable alternative to Sit/Lie can be found. Kellee O’Brian (PATH member) spoke about her experience of being homeless. Baatz spoke about the shortage of over 20,000 units in Colorado Springs and offered solutions such as requesting the City Council to look at the Housing Trust Fund Project.

It remains to be seen what will happen with Sit/Lie Ordinance, but The Independence Center is engaging local government, advocating on behalf of people with disabilities. Answering the invitation for the community to join in advocacy, PATH has emerged as an active, engaged force campaigning for more affordable, accessible housing.


About The Independence Center

The Independence Center is a local nonprofit organization that provides traditional and self-directed home health care, independent living, and advocacy services for people with disabilities.  These services range from providing peer support, skills classes, and employment assistance to individual and systems advocacy. The IC’s mission is to work with people with disabilities, their families, and the community to create independence so all may thrive.

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

UCCS Forum Panelists

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.”

Several questions from the audience were directed to representatives from The Independence Center, including questions about funding, starting grassroots movements, and how to obtain and utilize data in community organizing. The entirety of the discussion can be viewed here online.



A Letter from Our CEO

Below is a letter outlining the concerns that Patricia Yeager, CEO of The Independence Center, has with House Bill 1328, House Bill 1329, House Bill 1330 and House Bill 1331.

RE:  Access to Telephone Services for Persons with Disabilities, Seniors Threatened

Dear Sponsor:

Below is a letter outlining the concerns that Patricia Yeager, CEO of The Independence Center, has with House Bill 1328, House Bill 1329, House Bill 1330 and House Bill 1331.

I am writing to express my deep concerns personally and professionally to the flurry of bills introduced last week that deregulate and possibly discontinue landline telephone service in Colorado.  I am a person who is hard of hearing and have worn hearing aids since I was 5.  I am also the CEO of The Independence Center located in Colorado Springs and serving an 8 county area.  We are a state certified Independent Living Center providing services and advocacy that encourage people with all disabilities to live in the community and in control of their lives.  We also run a Home Health agency that specializes in serving people with significant disabilities receiving Medicaid dollars.

The bills that I am referring to are HB-1329, HB-1330, HB-1331, all of which call for complete deregulation of the VOIP and/or Land Line telephone service.  HB -1328 calls for moving the High Cost Fund away from maintaining landlines toward expanding broadband capacity.  I want to bring to your attention several consequences that perhaps you have not given thought to.

Deregulation of an essential service

I hope we all agree that communications services in this country are an essential service.  Personally, I am concerned about leaving the quality and product effectiveness to the discretion of telecommunication companies.  Telephone services, whether it be land line or VOIP, are essential to the safety of all people in the state.  Land line services have been subsidized for decades; in the mid to late 20th century there was quite a push to ensure that all households had a landline.  In the disability and senior community there continues to be a push to ensure that we have access to telephone services and to the adaptations needed to make telephones useable given various functional limitations.  Currently all landline owners pay five cents a month per landline to the Disabled Telephone Users Fund (DTUF) that fund three projects:  Telephone Relay services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals; the Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing with several important projects like courtroom access to interpreters; and the Reading Program for the Blind, using the telephone to read aloud newspapers for the blind.  All three are vital communications projects that need to be continued and the DTUF is mandated by the federal government.  How will these programs continue if there is no regulation or oversight for our communications system?

Deregulation of landlines and foregoing any regulations for VOIP deprives all residents of a way to hold the telecommunications companies accountable for their actions.  There will be no one other than the telecommunications companies to complain to and they will be focused on profits and what serves the most population, not what serves a segment such as seniors and persons with disabilities or the poor.   Taking this industry out from PUC oversight is a great way to ensure that the quality of our services decrease for our community

The question here is does the government have an interest in all people having access to telephone service or just those who can afford the VOIP communications system?  The LA Times story (December 5, 2013) indicated that in that state, telephone deregulation caused the cost of a land line to increase some 260%. A single landline with measured service went from $5.83 a month to $21.25 a month, hardly an affordable rate for people on fixed or limited incomes.  The same article also spoke to the deterioration of quality of service for landlines.  Telecommunications companies will be much less inclined to keep landlines active as the number of people needing those declines even though the new technology is either not affordable or safe during a disaster for low income, disabled or senior populations.  VOIP is actually not safe for anyone during an emergency given the inability of cell phones to go to the right tower that serves a specific address for 911 services. When one goes to buy a VOIP phone, the salesperson cautions to be sure to have another way to connect to 911.  What would that alternative method be and who would regulate and insure such access is made available?

High Cost Fund diversion

I am very concerned that the State is sanctioning the demise of landlines by moving the High Cost Fund dollars from maintaining landlines over to expanding broadband.  While the goal is laudable, it is short-sighted in a state that faces as many disasters as Colorado.  Landlines are much more reliable than cell calls in an emergency.  Too many cell calls can jam the tower and curtail all communications.  For people with hearing loss, the landline may be the only telephone service that can be heard when ringing or understanding speech if not wearing aids (such as at night).   The current 911 system does not work with texting technology so not only are deaf individuals unable to easily and quickly access that service, but cell phones cannot be relied upon to reach the right tower that serves that address’  emergency needs.  Clearly there is still a big need to maintain those landlines.  I understand there are many other funds being used to expand broadband without taking this fund away from its important service.

Personal impact

As a person with a hearing impairment, I cannot hear my cell phone at night or when it is not right next to me.  So I do not rely on it for emergency information but I know that I am safe for anyone can reach me via my landline.  Those workhorse landline telephones are crystal clear and as loud as I need it to be.  During an emergency I know I can be reached very easily and told to evacuate or what next steps to take.  I live in the Urban Wild-land Interface-at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain so I need the ability to hear the telephone when a disaster strikes.  For seniors and others like me who are hard of hearing, the landline is our lifeline.

As you debate the merits of deregulating our essential telephone services or move dollars away from supporting the landline infrastructure, give some thought to the potential loss of life as people give up their land lines and cannot use the cell phone for safety.  Having no one to ensure that the telephone service meets the need of the community or having no landlines is a recipe for disaster for people with disabilities, seniors and persons who are poor.  Finally, consider how you will continue the Disabled Telephone Users fund as it provides critical services that allow us to continue to be connected.


Patricia Yeager, Ph.D.

Chief Executive Officer
The Independence Center
729 S Tejon Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80906

CC: Honorable Governor John Hickenlooper

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