July 26: Landmark Day in Support of Individuals With Disability

by | Jul 26, 2021 | Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Health & Human Services | 0 comments

Joseph DiDomenico, CEO of Disability Achievement Center in Largo, examines a rollator at the DAC warehouse with Jody Armstrong, DAC director of outreach.

It could happen to anyone. For a Pinellas County couple, married 20-plus years, it did.

Craig, 58, has Lou Gehrig’s disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. It is a progressive disease that attacks the nerve cells controlling muscles throughout the body.

For Craig, the disease advanced quickly, limiting his mobility and requiring a walker and transport wheelchair. In need of medical equipment to extend his independence as long as possible, he and his wife reached out to the Disability Achievement Center (DAC) in Largo.

Able-bodied or not, everyone should have access to the same transportation, recreation, employment, and other life functions.Jody Armstrong, DAC director of outreach

The couple was familiar with the services of DAC, having discovered the nonprofit three years prior when searching for a flashing doorbell. Both Craig and his wife are deaf, so they use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.

Their experience is reason to commemorate July 26 as the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The day also marks the 30th year that the ADA National Network has provided information and training on implementing the act. The civil rights law, signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, prohibits discrimination based on disability.

The sense of community and wealth of services that DAC has created for Pinellas County residents — with a 15.4% disability rate, according to a 2019 report by the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability — motivated Pinellas Community Foundation (PCF) to provide grant money for DAC program needs.

The ADA empowers DAC and similar agencies throughout the U.S by providing a legal avenue to advocate for those with disabilities. “We are a center for independent living, and we were created to ensure equal access,” said Jody Armstrong, DAC director of outreach. “Able-bodied or not, everyone should have access to the same transportation, recreation, employment, and other life functions,” she maintained.

“Prior to ADA, if a building only had stairs, well, tough luck,” Jody said. “Now, a person with or without a wheelchair can enter a building. So, it’s an example of how ADA bolstered those with disabilities,” she explained.

PCF Steps Up To Support and Empower Those Living With a Disability

PCF has awarded nearly $50,000 to DAC since 2017, including $21,700 from the PCF Resiliency Fund to cover COVID-19-related expenses, such as transportation and food access for consumers. The funds also enabled DAC to partner with the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas for its Diapers for Dignity initiative. The free diaper supply bank is vital to many with disabilities, especially seniors.

A 2017 PCF grant of $10,000 supplied 43 DAC consumers with 58 pieces of equipment, including wheelchair transfer benches and access ramps. Another PCF grant of $7,000 in 2018 enabled DAC to install recycled aluminum ramps for three consumers when one new ramp alone would have cost $8,000. DAC created these savings by combining purchased parts under the grant-funded Consumer Equipment and Modification Assistance (CEMA) Program, which supplements the Medical Equipment Recycling Program (MERP).

Joseph DiDomenico, DAC executive director, said PCF funding has been tremendously significant, especially for its CEMA program that repairs, warehouses, and recycles medical equipment. Because CEMA is an addition to DAC federally funded services (including information and referral, independent living skills, peer mentoring, systemic and individual advocacy, and transitioning services), DAC relies on grants and donations to operate CEMA.

“In many cases, CEMA allows individuals to return to work,” Joseph said. “For others, it means the freedom to gain community independence, which they did not have before.” DAC services have helped many Pinellas County residents living with disabilities. As a testament to DAC’s impact, one resident said recently of her newly installed wheelchair ramp, “You gave me a pathway to life again.”

Support for Individuals With Disability

If you or someone you know struggles to maintain an independent lifestyle due to medical limitations, please contact the Disability Achievement Center to inquire about available resources.

PCF Grants Are Made Possible by Generous Community Donors

Pinellas Community Foundation supports over 400 local nonprofits each year through a variety of grants. The community’s ongoing support allows PCF to expand its funding to reach more individuals in need. You can help increase PCF’s reach by donating below or by setting up a fund of your own.