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Event puts focus on independence for disabled
celebration is a part of the Georgia Advocacy Office in Atlanta
Mike Reno works on a drawing Saturday during the Celebrating Abilities event at Roosevelt Square in Gainesville. - photo by Tom Reed

Charles Roberts' life changed dramatically after a car accident in 1984.

"I woke up out of a coma, and I couldn't move. It was a big shock," Roberts said.

Suddenly, Roberts found himself unable to get around without the use of a wheelchair. He had to adapt to his new life through "a lot of trial and error."

He has been living independently for the last 20 years, and today, he uses his experience to help other disabled people adjust to independent life in their communities as a peer supporter for the Disability Resource Center in Gainesville.

"I've been through a lot of stuff that people are just now going through. I can help them, might even make it a little bit easier for them," Roberts said.

"A lot of people just need a hand, to know that somebody cares, they just need support."

The Disability Resource Center was host to a "Celebrating Abilities" event Saturday at Roosevelt Square in downtown Gainesville.

The event featured the artwork of Michael Reno and live music from The Lefty Williams Band, each showcasing the abilities rather than the disabilities.

Jason "Lefty" Williams comes from a family of musicians.

He began playing the guitar when he was 4 years old.

"I was born without a hand, so I invented the guitar pick I use when I was 6. It's evolved over the years, obviously. I used to attach the pick with paper clips," he said.

He provides a description of how to make his unique guitar pick on the band's website,

Williams' musical abilities have led to a successful career. He worked as a teacher at the Atlanta Institute of Music. His band has made two albums produced by John Keane, who worked with REM and Widespread Panic.

The celebration is a part of the Georgia Advocacy Office in Atlanta, Long Road Home activities which will culminate June 22 at the state Capitol.

The date marks the anniversary of the Olmstead decision, handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999, that gave Americans with disabilities the right to live on their own when able and receive health care in a community-based setting,However, according to the Disability Resource Center, there are still 10,000 individuals living in a nursing home under the age of 65 in Georgia.

"That's working age. It still is a problem even today," Sarah Beth Fede, Gainesville disability center's advocacy coordinator said.

The Disability Resource Center in Gainesville is available to help anyone transition into community-based living.

It finds resources to remove architectural barriers and provide emotional support through peer supporters, people with disabilities living in the community who can act as a champion for those who are newly independent.

"We provide independence to people, whatever that may be. It's different to everybody," Fede said.

"Independence may be putting a ramp on someone's house or learning to use the computer or filling out an application."

Danny Overstreet, field director of Ramps for Champs, knows firsthand the difficulties associated with wheelchair mobility.

He has been helping people with disabilities for the last 11 years.

Through donations and grants, his organization has provided people with wheelchairs and equipment, built ramps and modified bathrooms and doorways to allow individuals to access their own homes.

"People tell me all the time ‘I've been a prisoner in my home for years, the only time I leave the house is when the ambulance comes to get me,'" Overstreet said.

"So that made me think, we're just freeing people. Now they can come and go as they want to."

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