Can-do cane gang: Impaired who want help can get it
Hidden in midtown there’s a tall, white building that looks like a church where people claim as much independence as they have the courage to embrace.
Some walk through the door on the arm of a friend. Others navigate with a distinctive white cane. A few waggle in on crutches or wheel in seated on a chair. Many use their hands to talk and some don’t talk much at all. Each bears a gift and a burden.
The burden is usually obvious.
The gifts could take months, even years, to unwrap, but they are what make Grand Junction’s Center for Independence sort of like Christmas — it’s a place where they unwrap all the gifts.
Take DeAnna Sciortino, for example. She sat behind a stainless steel prep table last week at the center’s new commercial kitchen slicing olives for a salad.
“I’m learning how to cook because I really need help with that,” Sciortino said. “I ended up in a coma for 3 1/2 months.”
In addition to preparing pasta salad and chicken strips this day, the obviously motivated and upbeat Sciortino baked peach and apple pies the day before. The trauma she endured eight years ago continues to interfere with some of her motor functions, but it does not stop her from reaching for the greatest amount of personal freedom she can sustain. She spends Monday and Tuesday in the kitchen taking part in the center’s culinary training program.
Just around the corner, Rue Kubick and Kyle Vansetten work to assemble high quality dog beds, an excellent Christmas gift for pampered pets, according to Gina Luby, who helps direct the effort.
Tall and friendly, Vansetten said he would like a job at a library or in a bookstore, especially if he can listen to his favorite music: Classic rock ‘n’ roll.
“It’s all about what you need and what is attainable,” the center’s Executive Director Linda Taylor said. “We are very realistic about what people can and cannot get in terms of public benefit or in terms of outcome.”
Many victories might be won in increments, she said.
“Maybe your goal is you want a job. OK, but maybe your goal this time is to learn to ride the bus. We’re going to do transit training. We’re going to get you on the bus. We’re going to do every stop with you. We’re going to teach you how to get your card. We’re going to teach you how to transfer. We’re going to turn you loose when you’ve learned it. That’s one goal. It could take months,” Taylor said.
The Center for Independence is the headquarters where Taylor and her staff, 51 percent of which is disabled, provides services to people with sensory deficits who live in 12 Western Slope counties.
With a budget of a little more than $600,000, the center fulfills contracts with the state and federal governments to provide these services.
“We teach people employability skills like Microsoft Office, Office Suite, and Excel. We teach people how to access the Internet, how to use Outlook, how to attach a file and send it,” Taylor said.
“We say, ‘For personal satisfaction, here’s how you can communicate with your family. For business purposes, here’s how you can use technology to get yourself a job.’”
The population the center will expand with the opening of satellite offices in Montrose and Carbondale this year. Last year, more than 450 people signed up to learn new skills and increase their independence. Hundreds more took advantage of referral services provided by the center.
“I don’t like to use the word disability or handicapped,” Taylor said. “Maybe we can do a patch in your sensory deficit (using computers, for example) You can still make this your tool. The technology is moving so fast.”
Talking computers can create a patch for people with low or no vision. The same is true for people who have lost the use of their hands. Voice activated computers make up for the loss of typing skills, she said.
Sorenson video relay, a system that acts like Skype, allows a deaf person to place a call by contacting an interpreter who can read sign. The interpreter watches the deaf caller sign his or her message and then vocalizes that to the person taking the call. It also allows deaf people to sign to each other, Taylor said.
The system, which consists of computer software and a monitor that looks like a television, can be set up in a deaf person’s home at no charge, one of the services available through the center. It empowers deaf and hard of hearing callers, who use American Sign Language, to conduct video relay conversations.
The center, located at 740 Gunnison Ave., offers several core services, including personal and systems advocacy, information and referral, peer counseling, support groups, classes and education, and independent and daily living skills training.
Call (970) 241-0315 for more information.