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Money tight, but center still helps people with disabilities

POSTED: March 21, 2008 5:01 a.m.
ROBIN MICHENER NATHAN/The Times

Cynthia Myers, program director for the Disability Resource Center, demonstrates a machine that enlarges text for the visually impaired.

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Even with the limited funding that is available, Gainesville’s Disability Resource Center does what it can to empower people in the community with disabilities.

The Gainesville nonprofit center is dedicated to assisting people with disabilities in their efforts to live independently and have opportunities that are equal to all people.

The center is operating with a few grants — one of which is nearly $15,000 from Jackson EMC’s Operation Roundup Grant awarded last April — donations and the help of volunteers.

The center offers its services five days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., but program director Cynthia Myers is usually at the office seven days a week.

"There’s so many people that need help," Myers said. "You do what you have to do to help people."

The center is equipped with a braille printer and computers with programs that read the words on the screen to the visually impaired and take voice commands from physically impaired users.

There is also a Topaz machine, which magnifies documents for those with visual impairments.

Staff members offer classes that teach people how to use these specialized programs, and also teach other programs like Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.

Each class is tailored to the audience.

"All of the classes are actually taught based on the person’s needs," Myers said. "One person may need to use a one-handed keyboard, or another person may need the screen reader."

But some services can be taken home. The Disability Resource Center has a loan closet stocked with 13 power wheelchairs, seven manual wheelchairs, numerous hospital beds and other items that the recently injured might need for a short time.

The center loans most of the items out for about three months to those who are recently injured and cannot afford the equipment, or to disabled people who might be about to purchase equipment, but want to make sure it is right for them before spending the money.

Staff members also help people with disabilities model their homes to their needs in the Handicap Accessibility Modification Program, where they build wheelchair ramps to houses, widen doorways and modify bathrooms, making them easier for the disabled to utilize, Myers said. The program is funded by the city of Gainesville’s Community Development Block Grant.

All of the resource center’s staff — with the exception of two University of Georgia interns — and more than half of the center’s board of directors are disabled, Myers said.

Bob McGarry, executive director of the Disability Resource Center, has been blind since an accident 15 years ago. McGarry is inspiration for the center’s mission to increase the independence of the disabled.

"He will absolutely amaze you with the things he can do," Myers said.

Myers is no stranger to physical hardship, either. When she was 19, Myers was in a car accident that crushed the bottom of her legs. It took her 36 surgeries and 20 years to recover fully.

Being disabled helps the staff identify with the people who come into the center looking for help dealing with their disabilities.

"We have all been through that, so we know what it’s like," Myers said.



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