IM this article to a friend!

October 29, 2002

Discovering the path to self-reliance - Nonprofits help disabled live outside institutions

From: King County Journal Newspapers, WA
Oct. 29, 2002

by Jamie Swift
Journal Reporter

Without the ability to see or hear, Ron Brown snow skis, rides horses, swims and works at Safeway.

Ron, 32, lives in a Renton Highlands rambler with three other people -- Helen, Kellie and Mike, who are all deaf and blind.

The four adults, like scores of other disabled people in King County, have found a level of independence living in the community, outside the walls of an institution.

Parkview Services owns the home on Edmonds Avenue Northeast where the four reside. Puget Sound Residential Services staffs the home 24 hours a day.

The two agencies are among several of the nonprofits in the area making it possible for disabled people to live productively and relatively inexpensively in the community.

However, there are challenges, such as finding affordable homes or the landlords willing to allow agencies to modify a home to suit the disabled residents. Funding is always an issue, especially when governments are cutting human services.

The challenges could become even more daunting, said Joyce Halldorson, spokeswoman for the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County.

``Over the next couple of years, some landlords will be opting out of Section 8 (government-subsidized housing) because they can get the market rate,'' Halldorson said.

Chad Higman, director of Puget Sound Residential Services, said, ``It's hard to find houses for people or landlords accepting of the situation.''

Throughout King County, there are dozens of homes for people of varying disabilities.

Seattle-based Parkview Services has recently developed a home in Kent for people leaving institutions.

In Bellevue, Parkview Services purchased a condominium for a disabled woman who could no longer afford her home in Bellevue.

And in Federal Way, a house was developed to serve two young women with severe disabilities who had outgrown a children's program.

Parkview Services, and similar nonprofits, secure government funding and other partnerships so they can charge the disabled residents low rental rates.

At the Highlands house, a ramp with support bars was installed on the front walk, a wall was taken out and there were some other minor adjustments.

Ron, Helen, Mike and Kellie all have developmental disabilities to go along with their inability to see or hear.

Much of their time is spent resting, curled up in comfortable chairs like kittens without a care.

Communication between the residents and the staff -- made up mostly of deaf people -- is extremely basic and done mostly by touching each other's hands and using different items for cues and symbols.

In the living room, Kellie laughs for several minutes, but she can't share the joke.

Helen begins to cry, so a staff member massages her neck and holds her hand. Helen has to go to the restroom so she feels her way to the hallway and adeptly slides her body against the wall until she gets there.

Mike likes the feel of his rubber crocodile and the stimulation he gets from his Tickle Me Elmo toy.

But they all like to get out in the community regularly-- especially Ron.

Ron is the only one who works a job to supplement his government benefits. Each of the four residents collect about $500 a month and they split the $600 monthly rent payment.

At the Highland's Safeway, Ron takes out the garbage and breaks down boxes.

His manager, John Whims, said Ron is a valuable employee.

``He's quite a guy,'' Whims said. ``He does a great job. He's on time for work every day. He works his whole shift. He has a routine and he does the same thing every day. I really appreciate him.''

Ron doesn't limit himself because staff members push him to learn and he responds to the prompting.

Besides his weekly swims and workouts at the USA Fitness Center in Renton, he rides horses and snow skis. He goes to camp every summer and has been to Disneyland.

He makes his own coffee and is learning to cook. He also is learning to communicate on a more advanced level through tactile signing, in which Ron must feel the hands of the person speaking to him with sign language.

These things wouldn't have been possible if he were living in an institution.

``As time passes, people begin to understand that life in an institution is not the best thing for a lot of people,'' Higman said. ``We support them so they can be as independent in the community as possible.''

``Families want their kids to live a life as close to normal as possible,'' Higman said. ``They want to be close to them so they can visit.''

``Ron Brown's wants are not a priority in an institution,'' Higman said. ``Institutions serve their purpose, but they just assure basic health and safety.''

Ron's family life was rough as a child, said PSRS program coordinator Reggie Scott and community support specialist Robert Bailey.

Born deaf, Ron could see as a child.

But he became frustrated. He was slow and being deaf made it even more difficult to communicate. His mother abused drugs and alcohol, Scott and Bailey said.

His frustration made him poke his own eyes out, they said. He would be sent to an institution in Missouri for several years where ``he wasn't very happy and his behavior was horrible,'' Scott said.

He would eventually return to the area and earn a diploma through Kentridge High School's special education program.

Ron has been with PSRS since he was 21. Those who work with him say he's never been happier.

``He's capable of a lot of things now,'' Bailey said. ``His self-esteem is high.''

All materials Copyright © 2002 Horvitz Newspapers, Inc.