Overcoming disabilities

Center helps find devices for those facing challenges

Photo by Mike Lamb Allen Gratz, far right, program manager for assistive technology with the Southwestern Center for Independent Living, talks to attendees of the Ed Roberts Day held at the Marshall office Tuesday.

MARSHALL — “This one I designed myself. I’m quite proud of that,” Allen Gratz said while pointing to the photos of wheelchair ramps on an office wall inside the Southwest Center for Independent Living.

“It’s a challenge to just get everybody together for a certain day to build them. Of course you are dealing with weather and everything else,” he said.

As program manager for assistive technology with center, Gratz is facing other challenges besides building the ramps. He explained those important challenges to those attending Ed Roberts Day Tuesday. Roberts was a pioneering leader of the disabilities rights movement in the 1960s. According to the center, Roberts was called the father of the Independent Living movement in the U.S. He was the first student with severe disabilities to attend the University of California, Berkeley. He founded the Berkeley Center for Independent Living, which was the first independent living service and advocacy program run by and for people with disabilities.

In his small office inside the center, which is located at 109 Fifth St., Gratz showed off how the center is helping people who are facing challenges due to their disabilities. The program that Gratz manages offers people with disabilities the opportunity to try out or observe a demonstration of devices to explore what fits the individual’s needs. He was able to demonstrate some of those devices during the open house.

The center offers a lending program for certain devices to provide the opportunity to test a device for a trial period. The center, according to Gratz, will also provide information and resources on where to find the devices that may better assist the individual.

“We are just getting into it,” Gratz said. “Basically, we are doing some research and finding what’s out there. We are finding a lot of devices that I never even thought of before.”

Gratz said it’s been a challenge to purchase the variety of devices. But he said the goal is to provide enough devices to help with a large variety of disabilities.

“If we don’t have it, we can refer someone to try it at another center that has the device,” Gratz said. “The devices we do have, most of them can be tried out at home, except for laptops and iPads. We basically want to keep them in house for now.”

Gratz said some of the devices available have been life-changing for clients of the center.

“It’s just amazing,” he said.

“This is not a one size fits all. Every person is different with their particular disability,” he said. “You got a little different twist to what they are dealing with. One person may need the device and that’s it and the next person may need the same device, but also needs to have a switch that they hit with their head.”