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, 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

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 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)[/caption]
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.
 
Download the press release: 10.29.15 THE INDEPENDENCE CENTER TEACHES UCCS PUBLIC AFFAIRS STUDENTS HOW TO AFFECT CHANGE THROUGH ADVOCACY]]>

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.

Sincerely,

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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Senator Corker Abandons Disability Community

recently reported that Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) walked away from negotiations on the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. According the NCIL, Senator Corker made the judgment that the disability community is less powerful than the Astroturf special interest groups pedaling lies against the CRPD.

Below is our CEO’s, Patricia Yeager’s response to this issue. Patricia sent the following email to Senator Corker: Senator Corker Who knew that giving the hope of rights to people with disabilities around the world could lead to the downfall of America?  Really?  There is no way on God’s green earth that humanitarian public policy can lead to the takeover of America’s independence from other countries.   This is an aspirational document that puts forth a goal for all nations to respect and better treat their citizens with disabilities as America tries to do.  You have an opportunity to counter the backwards reputation of Tennessee toward its own citizens with disabilities and you chose to lead from a position of fear instead.  When leaders in our country take this stance, we have more to fear from you than from other countries.  The right wing extremism of fear and stereotyping of minority groups is more of a threat to undermine our rights and way of life than any country…certainly more than a treaty with the goal of uplifting people with disabilities to a position where they can be contributors to the economic and civic fabric of their country. I am saddened and shamed by your intransigence stance.  I hope that one day you become very familiar with the prejudices surrounding people with disabilities and that you come to see this issue very differently.  I hold the intention that we will reach our goal of inclusion and respect for people with disabilities with or without you and the people you represent.  Eventually, the culture of good always triumphs the culture of fear. Sincerely, Patricia Yeager Call to Action: You can take a stand as well. Call Senator Corker’s DC and Tennessee offices. You can contact Senator Corker at 202-224-3344.
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Disability Rights Activist Highlight: Wade Blank

Working with the young disabled residents at the nursing home, Wade helped start a Center for Independent Living in Denver, Colorado. The center helped people move out of nursing homes and find accessible homes in their community.
Early in his career Blank developed the concept of a “liberated community” – a society where human beings could live in equality and develop the power to effect change. Blank focused on fundamental human rights and on the most impoverished members of the disability community. Blank, a Presbyterian minister, was one of the primary founders of the Atlantis Community and ADAPT, which began as an organization that demanded accessible public transit.

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Our CEO, Patricia Yeager, responded to an article titled, “Seeds of two rights movements were planted in August 1963 march” published by the Gazette on Saturday, August 24, 2013. The article focuses on the 1963 civil rights march on Washington and its results. In her letter to the editor Yeager argued that the 1963 march on Washington produced more than just two civil rights movements: gay rights and feminism.

Letter to the Editor

Re: Seeds of two rights movements were planted in August 1963 march

The August 28th march on Washington produced more than two civil rights movements! The “I have a dream” of equality resonated with Latino/Chicano activists, women seeking gender equality and people with disabilities as well as the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) community.  Whenever a “majority” culture devalues people, who are different for reasons they cannot change, a disenfranchised minority is born and the fight begins for equality.  Society judges people with disabilities or functional limitations—whether it be physical, mental, or intellectual—on what we cannot do. We can do everything that able bodied people do, just differently! That difference seems to scare the “able-bodied” community.

Ed Roberts, a man who experienced post-polio quadriplegia, is widely regarded as the father of the modern Disability Rights movement.  Roberts was working for the African-American civil rights movement when he suddenly realized that his own community-those with disabilities or functional limitations-was experiencing the exact same lowered expectations and stereotypes.  He re-directed his wheelchair and marched off to start organizing all of us to work for our own civil rights.  For our community—the largest and most diverse community across the country and the world—civil rights include: access to buildings such as schools, government offices and doctors’ offices; equal communication such as sign language interpreters, large and other alternate print materials; policies that encourage participation; significant attitude changes on the part of just about every person on the planet who does not have a disability; and access to education, the community and jobs just like everyone else. Equality and Access is my dream for people with disabilities in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the United States.

Thank you, Dr. King, for sharing your vision so that other minority groups can follow your steps and create their own dream.

Patricia Yeager 

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“Lives Worth Living” Documentary Influential at Community Celebration

th at Stargazers Theatre. The ADA Celebration included a silent auction with items donated from around the community, a screening of the PBS documentary “Lives Worth Living” and local heroes involved in the Disability Rights movement sharing their stories.

“This was a community building event and I appreciate all of our hard work together to create this community,” CEO of The Independence Center, Patricia Yeager said.
Lives Worth Living,” which depicts the history of the Disability Rights Movement to the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was screened at the event. Following the inspirational film, some participants involved in the movement shared their stories.
“During the movie, you could hear a pin drop,” Yeager said. “I think maybe people did not realize what a recent and rich history we have across the country.  We are not alone!”
While the silent auction was successful, the movie and speakers stole the show. The speakers, all local participants in the Disability Rights Movement, shared their experiences and struggles during the time the ADA was being fought for. Anita Pope, one of the speakers of the night, shared her thoughts on how the event went.
“I think it was really good for people to see this movie, because the people that are out in the community now that have access that wasn’t available back then. Especially younger people know, they have no idea what it was like and they are enjoying the fruits of those people’s labors. I tell my kids stories all the time and they can’t believe how much has changed,” Pope said.
The three speakers highlighted experiences shared in the film. Matthew Ruggles recounted walking in the Deaf President Now Marches and the power of seeing someone who was Deaf elected to lead Gallaudet University. Pope commented on ADAPT’s work in Colorado Springs and in larger marches in San Francisco. Billy Allen, who is the 504 Coordinator for Memorial Health System, spoke about what still needs to be done within the ADA to make it truly benefit people with disabilities.
“It’s really good for people to see the hard work that the disability community had to go through to make things as good as they are right now. It might not be perfect, but it’s so much better,” Pope said.

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Disability Law Series: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

At the Independence Center, part of our mission is to empower persons with disabilities and remove barriers, which prevent integration and equal opportunity. While it can be extremely difficult for adults with disabilities to feel integrated in their environment, it is arguably even more challenging for children with disabilities to feel included in the classroom. Educators and lawmakers are making strides to aid children with disabilities to not only succeed, but also feel included in the classroom setting.

A Little Background on IDEA:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is federal statute that authorizes aid for the education of nearly 6.5 million children with disabilities in the United States. IDEA requires public schools to create an individualized education program (IEP) for any child that falls under the realm as disability as defined by IDEA.  In order to create an effective IEP, parents, teachers and other school staff must work together to examine the student’s unique needs.  The process of creating the IEP involves all of these individuals, along with the student at times, constructing a plan for the student’s educational need. 
IDEA was revised in 2004 and changed the focus of special education from providing separate services for students with disabilities to including more students in mainstream classrooms. Schools are required to place students in inclusive classrooms, when appropriate, in order to provide the social and academic benefits of taking part in the general curriculum. This inclusion can aid in a child’s feeling of acceptance and motivation for schoolwork.

Assistive Technology through IDEA:

The federal government recognized the importance of assistive technology for students when it revised the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997 and again in 2004. IDEA states that school districts must consider assistive technology for any child in special education. That means that for any child receiving special education services, the educational team must ask if there is a device that will “increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities” of that child.
Raising awareness about creating a supportive and inclusive classroom environment is extremely vital. Not only will it improve a child’s performance and attitude toward education, but will keep their peers and teachers informed and open-minded.
What are your thoughts on this act and how it has affected our education system?

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