Friday, May 3, 2013

Introducing our new nonprofit: Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation

I believe in giving to the community and doing things that matter. I believe in helping people like me. If there's something positive I can use my skills and education for, I will do it. But I'm also a realist. I wasn't to keen on jumping in to build yet another nonprofit, because I understand how difficult it is to make it work. I've just left a position at one that was around for eleven years, and yet it struggled. A good idea is never enough. Sometimes you put put a lot of work and energy, stress and sweat and tears and even then it simply may not work. Every day you worry about getting the word out, hoping you'll find people who share your vision and mission, you hope that you can convince just enough kind souls that you'll be able to pay the bills to keep running. Yes, an office 9-5 job gives you more safety. And then, you don't feel as guilty, as if it's on you and you only if something happens. Because despite the good intentions, things often don't go the way you plan.

But I know what it's like- I have a disability too, I've been in a wheelchair all my life. I know how frustrated I get if I'm planning to go somewhere- a venue, a motel, a store not knowing how much my condition will get in the way of enjoying my night. Will I be able to use the restroom? Will I even be able to get in? Is there a sidewalk or would I have  roll on glass? Is there a safe way for me to cross the street or should I just opt to have the bus take me to the other side? If I go in will I be able to get to all areas myself, or do I need a friend to help me get my order in? Do the owners use handicapped bathrooms and elevators as convenient storage spaces? Do the business owners know or care about the Americans with Disabilities Act, but ADA aside, how practical it is for a person like me to try to get inside? Inclusion comes from people with disabilities being able to do things  for themselves. From  participating in what their surroundings and communities have to offer. If I know what to expect, I can plan around it and make informed decisions. The more I know about all the different ways I can be included, the less I'm afraid, and the more likely I am to try new things. My wheelchair is a problem, but that's my problem to deal with- the outside world doesn't have to make it bigger than it already is. That is how Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation came to be. The mission: to give the power back to individuals with disabilities. Information is that power and education is the key. I figured, we all know how to live our lives and how to cope with what we have, so rather than lecturing people we should just give them tools they can choose to use.

With that in mind, I've reached out to people who have been in one way or the other been involved with or affected by disabilities. All as concerned as I was, ready the share the burden, the stress of making it worked. I figured this time it had to be different. The board that I completed all had unique perspective that we needed to harvest. Steve Sullivan was an architect who knew much more about ramps, streets and sidewalks that I ever could. He shared with me his frustration, that while he was required to abide by the accessibility standard on the design level, the execution and then maintenance was often a completely different story. Fred Pratt is a known wheelchair activist in the area. Local politics and helping the community is his passion. And I was interested in both- his take on things as a wheelchair user, but also if we were going to make it work and benefit the local public we needed strong ties to it. Renee Saunders dealt with disability services so it was enriching to have someone who looks at it from the opposite side in many ways. Danielle Torrent volunteered at the Jordan Klausner Foundation and for years it was our shared passion- working with Cerebral Palsy kids. She was a journalist, now is a PR expert and if there's anyone who can understand what drive this, it's her. Paul Brophy was a business owner for many years. Known and respected he did all he could to make his bar as accessible as possible, including eliminating a stage. After surgeries he faces his own limitations. Those are just the few who joined us and new faces have teamed up with us since.

We chose Gainesville as a starting point: not too big, not to small, to test some of our ideas, but our dreams and ambitions are broader. We want to see if we can build the right type of structure here and then expand it. Ideally in time, with the aid of grants, gifts and programs we'll be able to hire people with disabilities not in spite of their conditions but because of their experience. Hopefully we can create model that we can adopt elsewhere. It's a scary and exciting time for us, but we need help to get started. Please consider helping us spread the word, telling your friends visiting http://fdaaf.org website and donating via PayPal if you can. The donations are tax deductible and for the time being processed via The Jordan Klausner Foundation

Twitter: @FDAAFoundation  Facebook: facebook.com/FDAAF

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