Ross Huddleson on Electric BikeFran Dorrance, Independent Living Outreach Coordinator at The Independence Center, talks about her work with Ross Huddleson

Ross Huddleson is a posterchild of success at The Independence Center. From his introduction to The IC’s Independent Living services, to the Veteran in Charge Program, and now as a peer support mentor, Ross has increased his independence and removed barriers that his disability had previously presented.

For people with disabilities, the lack of public transportation and disability related services in rural areas can make everyday life difficult, if not impossible. One person who’s all too familiar with this is Ross Huddleson. Ross lives in Calhan and he couldn’t imagine leaving his beloved home on the plains for a life in the city, even if things might be easier. Ross, a veteran of Vietnam and a proud member of his community, has Parkinson’s disease.

When I first met Ross in Calhan, he was visiting one of The IC’s six outlying offices. His Parkinson’s related symptoms were really starting to affect his ability to get around. Since he wasn’t able to drive, and there isn’t bus service in Calhan, Ross’ only option for transportation was walking through the spread out, hilly terrain, with windy and icy weather that would make walking difficult for anyone. For someone with Parkinson’s though, this task could be nearly impossible. But Ross did it every day.

I thought there must be a better way for Ross to get around. Over the next few weeks, we both read up on possible solutions. We found a study that showed that riding a bicycle had shown healing benefits for people with Parkinson’s and the idea of a tricycle came up. So, I introduced Ross to Paul Spotts, our Assistive Technology Specialist at The Independence Center. After a short wait, funding was approved and Ross was fitted for a brand new adaptive trike with motor. The three wheeled design of the trike helps Ross to maintain his balance, and the motor helps to supplement his peddling and can take over when he gets tired.

Since getting his trike, Ross’ new found mobility has freed him. As Ross said, “When I go someplace now it doesn’t take me half an hour to get there.” Another benefit since he began riding is the improved coordination of his body movements.


Ashley Billington, Veteran Coach at The Independence Center, Continues Ross’ Story

Because of his veteran status, Fran referred Ross to The Independence Center’s Veteran in Charge or VIC program. If you aren’t familiar with the VIC program, it represents a sea change in how veterans are taken care of. VIC is a Veterans Administration or VA funded program that provides long-term supports and services to veterans who have a disability. The program serves eligible veterans of any age who need assistance with bathing, dressing, transferring, yardwork, transportation, cooking, medication management, and other necessary tasks. And most importantly, “veteran directed” means that the veteran self-directs (or appoints an authorized representative to direct) his or her own long-term supports and services.

Through the VIC program, Ross has gained access to resources and taken control of his own care. Though extremely independent, Ross still needs help here and there. With the help of caregivers, paid for with funds from the VIC program, he’s picked people he trusts to help out with daily tasks to make his life more independent and so he can stay in his community.

Since meeting Ross, I can honestly say that he’s changed. His physical appearance and zest for life seems energized. I think that getting connected with the right people and getting access to the resources you need can mean the difference between surviving and thriving, and I think Ross has found what he needs to thrive.

Because of Ross’ interest, determination, and desire to get the most out of his experience at The IC, Ross has gone from working on his own independence to helping others work toward theirs. Today, Ross has become a peer mentor with The Independence Center. He works with other people with disabilities, shares his experiences, and helps provide support for their goals to become more independent.