Attacking barriers for the disabled

ADA anniversary celebration Friday

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COEUR d'ALENE - Patrick Blum and Virgil Edwards, of the Coeur d'Alene office of Disability Action Center, say as advocates their ultimate goal is working themselves right out of a job.

"That would mean the world is equal, and that people are being treated with respect and dignity," said Blum, an independent living specialist for the disabled. The nonprofit, which survives on federal and state funding, has offices at 3650 N. Government Way at the Northgate Mall.

DAC, among many other advocacy actions, has worked to help disabled residents of North Idaho bring service animals into college classes and gain wheelchair access to public spaces like Tubbs Hill.

Edwards said, "We're not here to make things better than - we're here to make an even playing field, that's what people need to understand."

"We don't give anything to anyone," Blum said. "We give them information so they can do for themselves."

Information referral is a major part of what DAC does.

"We go out into the community, find out what's going on, find out the resources that exist" and build alliances with the sources, Blum said. "It's not just a cold-call referral in most cases because we built that relationship."

There are many "barriers" to people with disabilities, such as buildings with no ramps, or inaccessible bathrooms, he said. DAC is working to eliminate them all.

That's not all people like Blum and Edwards are working on each day.

"There are stigmas and stereotypes about people with disabilities," Blum said. "Until people with disabilities are no longer treated like that, that's why we exist."

DAC is run by people with disabilities, and they strive to be role models and teachers.

Blum, 45, has been working in the disability rights movement since 2000, when he became disabled. He has been with DAC for five years, joining the agency shortly after moving to North Idaho.

"You do this because you want to make a difference, and that's what we do," Blum said.

He was a teacher before his disability.

Edwards, 64, of Coeur d'Alene, had worked in Spokane and injured his back and was told by a doctor he would never work again.

"I rejected that, and went to work and have been working ever since," Edwards said.

He hasn't done the physical work, though, he used to do.

"That was pretty scary, because that's all I'd ever done all my life," he said.

He turned down a worker's compensation claim and spent 15 years working for a Spokane and North Idaho agency helping disabled people find employment.

About six years ago, he joined DAC.

"This is what I've always wanted to do," teaching people independence, Edwards said. "It's what I've lived, it's how I feel, it's been a part of me all my life."

Those interested in learning more about the agency's services, and the people who work there, can do so on Friday.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., DAC is hosting an anniversary celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act at the Human Rights Education Institute at 414 W. Mullan Ave.

The act was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.

There will be speakers discussing equality and independent living. Free food will be available.

DAC also is honoring a growing segment of the community it serves.

"We're going to do a salute to the veterans," Blum said. "Many of them are coming back with disabilities, physical and mental."

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