Monday, July 28, 2003
By Heidi Rowley
It looked like any family or church picnic in the park.
But for those who attended the Visalia Center for Independent Living's picnic Saturday, it was an opportunity to celebrate 13 years of a law that has allowed them to own a home, find a job and even graduate from school.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has helped ensure that people with disabilities have the same access and accommodations as those without.
"The big benefits are accessibility for all," said Mark Keller, former chairman of the city's Persons with Disabilities Committee.
Committee members teamed with Robin Libbee, director of the independent living center, to put on the picnic and related events. Libbee said it was the first ADA celebration in Visalia.
"People with disabilities don't have a lot of social opportunities," Libbee said.
The event was a chance for those with and without disabilities to get to know each other, she said.
For Pat Chester the event was a way for disabled people to make themselves known in the community.
"People with disabilities need to be out in the community more," Chester said. "It makes the community aware that there are disabled [people] here, and there are things we can do."
As Keller pointed out, a disabled person doesn't have to be someone confined to a wheelchair. He and his fiancée, Eddi Milstead, have multiple sclerosis. They met on the Persons with Disabilities Committee.
Organizers hope the picnic will become a yearly event.
"I think it turned out good, and next year will be even better," said Fran Phillips, executive director of the Fresno Center for Independent Living.
Phillips oversees the centers in Madera, Merced, Kings, Tulare and Fresno counties.
She called Visalia a leader when it comes to acknowledging and assisting people with disabilities. Phillips cited the Persons with Disabilities Committee and the wheelchair ramp that will soon be in place at the downtown post office as examples of the city's willingness to adapt to residents' needs.
Blanca Florez, an independent living counselor, told a story about how ADA has helped her. She graduated from College of the Sequoias last year and began looking for a job.
"It was very hard to become employed," said Florez, who is confined to a wheelchair.
Florez said she educated herself about the ADA, became associated with the Center for Independent Living and was able to apply for a counselor position when one became open.
"I'm very grateful for this opportunity," Florez said. "We have to accomplish
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