For Ahwatukee Foothills resident and executive director for Arizona Bridge to Independent Living Phil Pangrazio, the best resource for learning how to live with a disability are other people with disabilities.
In that spirit, his organization and 10 others in the Disability Empowerment Center help people with disabilities gain knowledge on how to live independently.
The 62,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 2008, helps people modify their homes, navigate various resources and find employment.
The transition a person goes through when they become disabled is like being an infant all over again, Pangrazio said. “You have to relearn everything,” he said. All the organizations at the DEC, said Pangrazio, help accelerate that process.
“There’s a crucial time frame when a person becomes disabled, that without the resources and knowledge, they could really fall into a lot of pitfalls,” said Lance Sedbrook, who became disabled when he was 24. If those resources are unused, he said, they can become dependent and have health complications.
The facility was primarily built as a way to make accessing services for disabled people more convenient, Pangrazio said.
“It made that collaboration a lot more difficult when we weren’t together, when there wasn’t that proximity,” he said.
One of the programs at the center is peer mentoring being developed by Ashleigh Turner, a community resource specialist at the Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association.
“Our mentors basically show the person that they’re working with that there’s life after the injury,” Turner said, adding that the peer mentors help people with new disabilities.
“People with disabilities can best learn from other people with disabilities,” Pangrazio said. The peer model that Turner is developing, he said, is much more formal unlike the ones that existed before.
The program’s structure, Turner said, helps hospitals see that the peer mentors have training in hospital regulations and HIPAA requirements, as well as give it duplicability for other disability organizations.
Turner said her experience with her rugby team helped her realize that she could do a lot of things independently, like traveling on an airplane by herself.
Pangrazio said knowledge, like how to manage their wheelchairs, is something valuable that peer mentors can impart on people with new disabilities.
“That’s simple stuff that you can’t just get off the street somewhere,” he said.
People with disabilities are not the only ones who benefit from peer mentoring. Sebrook has talked to students in schools and AZSCIA peer mentors have talked to occupational and physical therapy students about how to work with people with disabilities.
The Disability Empowerment Centerm is located along the light rail at 50th Street and Washington Street. AZSCIA will host an art show featuring works from artists with disabilities at the center on March 30.
The Virginia G. Piper Sports and Fitness Center for People with Disabilities is scheduled to open in June or July of 2011.
Christopher Ogino is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a junior at Arizona State University.