"Rewriting the Myths, Redefining the Realities"
By Homer Page
May 29, 2002 was a very special day for Evelyn Tileston. On that day she hosted Disability Day in Craig, Colorado, and on the same day the Craig Independent Life Center, which she directs, received a check from the Colorado Cares Foundation for $34,000 to be used to purchase a fully accessible van.
The Colorado Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) went to Craig for its May meeting and to conduct one of its advocacy training workshops. Ms. Tileston wanted something more than a workshop, however. She decided to make the SILC members work while they were in Craig. She organized a full day of activities that would make her community more aware of her Center and of the strengths and needs of the disability community in rural Colorado.
Evelyn Tileston grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. After finishing college she worked for two years at the Cincinnati Association for the Blind. During the 1960’s she met Gordon Tileston, and they were married. The Tileston family have been ranchers in the Craig area for several generations, so Evelyn moved to the ranch where she raised a son, punched cattle, and did all the other work expected of a rancher’s wife, even though she was blind.
Evelyn is an energetic woman, so in the 1980’s when it became apparent to the family that some additional income was needed to supplement the family business, she went to work for Colorado Vocational Rehabilitation. She taught independent living skills to blind persons on the Western Slope. She also earned a Masters Degree through the Colorado State University Extension Program.
Evelyn worked for ten years as a rehabilitation teacher, but her position fell victim to a periodic State budget crunch, and she was left without a job. “Out here we still have the youthful culture of the old west, she said.
“When something goes wrong, you fix it. You take a fence post and some baling wire, paint it green, and call it a John Deere.” This is what Evelyn did. The local Volunteer Nurses Association (VNA) wanted her to continue serving persons who are blind, but they didn’t have any money to pay her so, even though she had never written a grant before, she wrote one. It was not her last grant. She promised in this first grant to continue the program by establishing an Independent Living Center. She kept her promise.
The Independent Life Center came into being in 1997 and now serves three very large counties: Moffitt, Rio Blanco, and Routt. In addition to providing information and referral services, advocacy, independent living skills training, and peer counseling, it offers three other specialized programs.
The ILC serves over fifty older individuals who are blind. In 1997 Ms. Tileston initiated a program for older blind persons that she calls “VizAbility”. This program emphasizes peer support, social and recreational activities and skills training. Funding for the VizAbility program comes from the federal Older Individuals who are Blind (OIB) program.
The ILC receives a grant from the local United Way to purchase items for persons with disabilities that will enhance their independence. Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD’s), baskets for walkers, hand rails and grab bars are examples of items that have been purchased. Items are purchased with these funds that cannot be purchased from any other source.
The ILC also operates a housing program. It administers twenty-five Section 8 vouchers, provided by the Colorado Department of Housing, for low-income persons. Evelyn says that this program has been so successful that she has applied for an additional twenty-five vouchers.
Now that the ILC has an accessible van, a fourth program will be launched. Evelyn plans to hire a driver and fully schedule the van. She says that the City of Craig has agreed to provide the gasoline needed to operate the van.
The ILC participates in a federal Department of Labor program entitled “Experience Work”. This pays the salary for two half time staff persons who are over 55 years of age. One of these individuals operates the program in Meeker and the other is the receptionist in the Craig office.
Activities for the SILC meeting began the evening of Tuesday, May 28 with SILC members attending a Chamber of Commerce mixer. It was followed on Wednesday, May 29 with a breakfast meeting with the downtown business community at a very pleasant coffee shop called The Serendipity Café. The business owners asked for tips on how to better serve customers with disabilities. They also asked questions about providing physical accessibility, communicating with deaf shoppers, and giving information to shoppers who are visually impaired. Evelyn offered her Center as a resource for anyone who had additional questions.
The business people left to open their shops and, after a short break, the community’s human service providers joined Evelyn and her staff and the SILC members. Among the most articulate of the human service providers was Sheriff Buddy Brinstead. Sheriff Brinstead discussed his emergency preparedness program as it relates to persons with disabilities. He stated that the law enforcement and emergency preparedness personnel were knowledgeable regarding the location and needs of persons with disabilities and seniors.
Sheriff Brinstead spoke knowledgeably about communicating with deaf persons and working with persons with mental illness in the criminal justice system. He stated that, while enforcement of the new seat belt law might prevent disabling accidents, his community was opposed to the law and therefore his office would not enforce it.
Janice Brown from Advocates for Crisis Response spoke about the hard choices faced by persons with disabilities in domestic abuse situations. Often the only financial and personal support available is from the abusive partner. This makes leaving very difficult. “There is not a shelter in the Craig community, and it is doubtful that one will be created any time soon,” she said.
Throughout the day representatives from the deaf community raised issues of importance to them. It is difficult to arrange for a qualified interpreter in rural Colorado, they said. One of the most needed areas for interpreter services is medical care. They are especially concerned with the local hospital where interpreter services are not available. They were encouraged to use Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as a tool to improve interpretive services at the hospital.
At noon the group moved to the City Hall to participate in a Town Meeting sponsored by Congressman Scott McInnis. Members of the disability community asked several questions. The Congressman’s responses were uniformly negative. He said that persons with disabilities already receive many benefits and that they could not expect to get any more money from the hard working, taxpaying public. He said that he did not support consumer control of a benefits program such as the Rehabilitation Services Administration, nor a requirement that 51% of the Vocational Rehabilitation employees be persons with disabilities. Representative McInnis said that there would be no help for rural transportation for persons with disabilities or prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. He agreed to discuss the issues further when representatives of the disability community are in Washington to attend the National Council on Independent Living conference.
Following the meeting with Congressman McInnis, everyone gathered for a workshop on advocacy. A staff person from Senator Allard’s office addressed the workshop and informed the attendees of the Senator’s activities on behalf of persons with disabilities.
The day ended with a Bar-B-Que dinner in the city park. After dinner SILC chairperson, Jim Rowland, entertained. Jim performs throughout the Western Slope in nursing homes, senior centers, and a variety of other venues. His program of old and new favorites brought the group together in a feeling
Disability Day in Craig is a model for rural communities across the state. It is very useful to bring the disability community together with business people, service providers, and community political leaders to discuss issues of mutual interest and importance. Such a day works well in a rural community where everyone knows everyone else and decision makers are willing to sit down and talk. The conversations can be personal and familiar, while outsiders can raise issues and provide information and experience that may be better received than if they came from a local person. Careful planning, collaboration, understanding, and trust among members of the local community and the outsiders is essential.
The success of the day in Craig must be attributed to the good work of Evelyn Tileston and her staff at the Independent Life Center. Congratulations on a job well done.
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Copyright 2002 A&H Publishing Corporation