Vicki Skoog and Board member Peter Howells
Voices From the Disability
Raising a Child;
Founding a Program
by Homer Page
Vicki Skoog is the Executive Director of the Colorado Springs
Independence Center. Over the last fifteen years she has guided the
Center from its origin in her garage to its own building, a staff of
71, and a prominent place in the Colorado Springs community. In 1971
Vicki was injured in an automobile accident. The accident left her
with a C 3-C 4 spinal cord injury. In the 32 years since her injury
she has raised a son, founded the Independence Center, developed a
profound philosophy of independence, and proven that a strong spirit
can overcome a multitude of challenges. The story that Vicki has to
tell is one of frustration and challenge, acceptance and learning,
and creativity and triumph. Here is what she told us.
The Colorado Quarterly: Tell us about your background
Vicki Skoog: I was born in Michigan. My father was the hockey coach
at the University of Michigan. He had played professional hockey,
and I think I learned to skate before I learned to walk. I grew up
hiking and camping. We lived a very active life.
My father had asthma, so we moved to Colorado Springs for his
health. We moved in 1959, when I was twelve. He joined the coaching
staff at the newly created Air Force Academy. My father was very
well known in the community. Doors have been opened for me when
people learn that I am Victor Heyligerís daughter.
I attended the University of Michigan for a year and Parks Business
College in Denver, where I graduated. After graduation I held a
number of jobs in Colorado Springs with the Federal Civil Service. I
got married and had my son. He was seven months old when I was
injured. We were on a family trip to Kansas. There was a hail storm
near Limon and the van rolled over. I was the only one injured. I
spent a month in intensive care and then transferred to Craig for my
rehabilitation. In an instant my life changed forever.
TCQ: You had lived an active life. You had a husband and a small
child. What was it like to come home?
VS: It was very frustrating. Perhaps the worst part of it was that I
had no way to get out of the house. For many years I could only
leave the house on rare occasions. We could not afford an accessible
vehicle, and there was no accessible transportation in the
community. Fortunately, our house had quite a bit of accessibility.
For a number of years my mother-in-law provided most of my personal
assistance. There were no full support home health agencies in the
community. Even after my mother-in-law stopped doing my care, I
needed to find family members to work with me on the weekends.
I spent a great deal of time with my son. He says that he never
thought of me as a person with a disability. I was just Mom. I
helped him with his schoolwork. He tells me that he believes that
his success in school comes from the time that I worked with him.
While my husband and I were divorced eight years after my injury, I
have wanted him and my son to remain close. They are now in business
A big change occurred in my life about 1983. I purchased a
Volkswagen van that was wheelchair accessible. For the first time
since my injury I could get out into the world. Shortly after that I
was invited to join a spinal cord injury support group. That group
made a lot of difference to me. The contact with other persons with
disabilities helped me to gain new perspective on what my options
might be. I began to understand what the needs were, and how I might
help to meet some of them. I think that group helped me found the
TCQ: How did you start the Independence Center, and how has it
VS: We started the Center in my garage. In the beginning we focused
on transportation and personal assistance. The El Pomar Foundation
gave us a grant to buy a van, and we began to provide accessible
transportation. Next we became certified to provide Medicaid
services. I learned from my own life that independence begins with
these two services for a person with a disability like mine. There
are tiers of services. After personal assistance and transportation
are available, a person can look toward employment and larger
involvement in the community. Housing is also an area that we have
made a priority.
We no longer provide transportation services. When the Colorado
Springs transit agency began to offer accessible services, we could
turn to other needs. Without a doubt, advocacy is our first
priority. We try to teach our consumers to advocate for themselves.
Sometimes it is easier to do things for the consumer than to teach
them to do it independently, but that is wrong. We continually work
to avoid forgetting the purpose of an independent living center.
We sponsor a golf tournament each year to raise funds for emergency
assistance. We assist over 30 persons a year who need medications or
other emergency help. The golf tournament raises over $20,000 a
year. It also gives us visibility in the community.
We have grown a lot since those days in my garage. The Center could
not afford to pay me a salary until 1996. I worked as the executive
director for over eight years as a volunteer, but that is what
people often have to do in the Independent Living movement. We now
own our own building. We serve 63 consumers in our home health
program, and have 71 staff persons. There is a lot of need in this
community and I am proud of our efforts to meet that need, but there
is much more to do.
TCQ: What are your future goals?
VS: At some point in the next three to five years I may want to
retire, but before that I want to help build a strong disability
community that can be an effective voice. We need better
transportation, more access to our streets and sidewalks, and
parking spaces. We need better health care and housing. There are so
many needs and those needs will only be addressed when there is a
forceful voice coming from the disability community. My highest
priority is advocacy. I want to leave a powerful voice for advocacy
in the disability community when I retire.
I am looking forward to having time to paint. I have always been
interested in drawing and painting and, after my injury, I spent a
lot of time painting. My mother-in-law brought a paint set to me and
encouraged me to learn to use it. At first I didnít think that I
could, but I did learn to paint holding the brushes with my teeth. I
want to have the time to be creative. It isnít possible to schedule
inspiration. Ideas come when they come. I will enjoy having the time
to let my creativity develop.
TCQ: You have had over 30 years to practice independence and think
about the meaning of living an independent life. What are your
VS: As I have said, basic services such as personal assistance and
transportation are essential. In my case, becoming involved with
other persons with disabilities helped me to understand that I could
live a more independent life. It is necessary to learn patience and
acceptance, but one must not accept false limits. Many of the
services that I need to live independently did not exist when I was
injured. I had to create them for myself and at the same time for
others. You canít wait for others to assist you to be independent.
So much of independence comes when you learn to direct your own
It isnít enough to just direct your own life to be truly
independent. You have to contribute to others. I would not feel
complete if I couldnít give to others. Persons with disabilities
receive services, but there needs to be more. Genuine self-respect
comes only when you know that you are contributing. Independence
means being a complete human being.
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