People setting policy and developing programs for the disabled must invite input from the disabled to be effective, according to the directors of two Utah Independent Living Centers.
Debra Mair, director of the Salt Lake center, and Helen Roth, director of the center in Logan, presented one of 12 workshops at the third annual Women and Disability Issues Conference Tuesday."It's good that people are thinking about put-ting wider doors in, and ramps, but when you're in a wheelchair, something someone who's never been in a wheelchair thought would work may not."
For instance, some handicapped stalls in public restrooms present problems. With the combination of an inward-opening door and a space too narrow to maneuver in, people in wheelchairs can find themselves trapped inside, at worst. At best, they are unable to close the door for privacy. Access ramps can also be problematic. A 35-foot-long ramp, with no flat rest space, can be a grueling or even impossible workout for someone who doesn't have a motorized chair.
The independent living movement, which Roth calls "akin to the civil rights movement" both occurred in the late '60s and were a rebellion against discrimination focuses on involving the disabled on policy boards that design programs. More than half of the members of Independent Living Center boards must be disabled in some way.
"Independent Living differs from other services in two basic ways," Roth said. "First, it's an empowerment movement. We help people realize they can make their own decisions and have an inherent right to do so. Second is a particular focus on changing the environment to make it accessible."
Inaccessibility is not a deliberate problem, they said. "I don't think most people say, `I don't want those disabled people coming in, so I'll build stairs.' They just don't think about it," Mair said. Roth added that "Some can't afford to make their buildings or businesses accessible. So we try to focus on things before they are finished."
Traditionally, Mair said, the attitude toward a disabled person has been: "If we can change you somehow, you'll get along better in society."
That's the wrong approach, she said. "I'm a person. I have a disability. You can't change that. So what kind of changes can we make so I can go to a movie or a restaurant or other places."
According to Mair, "When you go to the store, if you want grapes, you buy grapes. That's a choice. We want you to have choices."
Independent living is not being able to do everything yourself, she said. "It's living on our own and making our decisions, but having some assistance when we need it. You may need help getting up in the morning, or getting into the shower. That's OK, as long as you get to choose what you wear. As long as you are still in charge of yourself."
Utah has had an Independent Living Center in Salt Lake City since 1981. Centers will soon be providing services to disabled people in Logan, Price and St. George. Besides serving the mobility-impaired, the center will offer individualized services to anyone with a disability, including communication disorders.