Kevin Likes maneuvers his wheelchair until he is directly in front of his computer, then strains his head forward until his nose rests on a small red button, which allows voice activation.
"Delta, Echo, Alpha, Romeo," he says, and the computer slowly types the word "dear."The computer has opened a new world to the 33-year-old, who was born with Werdig-Hoffman muscular dystrophy. He can move his head and one hand just enough to operate his electric wheelchair (that's getting harder, he said, as he becomes weaker). But with the aid of the computer he can write letters and reports, turn his radio and a tiny television on and off and operate the light and telephone over his desk.
Ironically, though he can do many tasks with the computer, he can't turn it on without the help of an attendant. And an attendant is something that, at least temporarily, he lacks.
Likes is one of 22 adults with severe physical limitations who participate in the state's attendant care program, operated by the Division of Services to the Handicapped. Another 45 are on waiting lists, but funding is very limited.
The state gives Likes the maximum grant, $500 a month. He interviews and hires his own attendant, keeps track of income tax withholding and pays the attendant's salary.
Likes lived at home before becoming part of the attendant-care program, and people from Community Nursing came out daily to get him up and put him in bed. Having his own apartment was impossible before the program. "Funding is inadequate, though, and I have a hard time keeping the job filled.
"I hired my last attendant Dec. 26 and he quit last week," he said. "Someone has to be with me 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and $500 just isn't enough to get someone to live my life and theirs both. I'm so grateful for the program; without it I would be in a nursing home (the state would have to pay for that - at skilled-nursing rates). But it's a very stressful job and most people don't want to take it on for that kind of money. I've had 12 attendants in three years."
A couple shared the job for 5 1/2 months; the average attendant stays two or three months. His sister Ramona, also handicapped, is caring for him until he can hire someone.
Likes wrote a small book that spells out precisely what's required of an attendant. Applicants read the book so there won't be any surprises. It contains chapters like "Sitting Kevin Up in Bed" and "Tracheostomy Care," and outlines each step. "Kevin's Lifestyle" offers insights into the man: Goes to bed late. Arises early. Organized. Motivated. Active LDS. Loves outdoors. Trusts others but is cautious.
Unlike many who need attendant care, Likes is very active. He sells insurance, is involved in the community, serves on a local council for the disabled and practically lived at the Legislature during the last session - partly to lobby for attendant-care funding.
"I don't want to lose this program," he said. "To me it's both freedom and survival. But to work, we need to be able to offer some sort of working wage."