(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is dedicated to Michael Blatchford, Gleave Isaac, Ann O’Conner and to all disabled citizens of the world, past and present, young and old…and to their families, caregivers, medical staff and educators. Part I traced the history of Assist to Independence. Part II outlines where the organization is today.)
In 2005, the Assist to Independence office in Tuba City is the first native owned and operated independent living center and is one of three located on native lands in the United States. The other two are located in Mississippi and South Dakota. The office is currently one of five assistive technology centers in the state of Arizona. There is one in Flagstaff, two in Phoenix and one in Tucson
The nonprofit community based program was established by and for Native Americans with disabilities and chronic health problems and provides services for the Navajo, Hopi and Southern Paiute Tribes in northern Arizona.
Currently, Tuba City Regional Health Care Corp. medical staff, especially the speech, occupational and physical therapists, utilize adaptive facilities and equipment at the center for evaluation and treatment. The therapists provide a multi-disciplinary team functional clinic along with Elizabeth Pifer, Assist to Independence director, at least twice a month. Wheelchair assessments, assistive technology and augumentative communication assessments, as well as computer adaptation assessments and diagnostic treatments are completed.
The mission of Assist to Independence is to provide culturally relevant services to a cross disability American Indian consumer population. Each program emphasizes a common goal of enhancing a quality of life and community access through maximizing independence and improving functional skills. These services are provided through an environment, which promotes active consumer and family input in self-determination and equal opportunities.
Five major programs include the Center for Independent Living, Regional Resources Center for Assistive Technology, Special Needs Toy Lending Library, Functional Assessment Clinic and the Sensory Integration program.
The staff works hard to provide the necessary tools for individuals to make sensible choices and decisions. They also work to help maintain a maximum level of independent living and to achieve the equality of opportunity, inclusion into the community as well as economic and social self-sufficiency.
Other service areas include information and referral, independent living skills training, individual and systems advocacy, peer mentoring, traditional healing, Hooghan Haadilneeh Project (home modifications), durable medical equipment and transportation.
You might ask, what is independent living? Independent Living is the right to control and take charge of your life. It does not mean wanting to do everything by yourself or living in complete isolation. It means having the right choices and control in your life that non-disabled family members, friends or neighbors take for granted. Being disabled includes taking risks, responsibility and having the same right to succeed or fail.
“We were extremely lucky to receive funding in the beginning,” said Executive Director of the Assist to Independence Michael Blatchford. “The hard part was the paperwork. We want to empower more Native Americans to advocate for themselves at their tribal levels and beyond. As an agency, we are trying to sensitize the awareness about disabilities. People with disabilities should be treated with respect and dignity.
He said Assist to Independence has worked with many agencies to help Native Americans with disabilities.
“However, our biggest barrier is getting the funds. We try to stretch them out.”
“I commend the Hopi Tribe as being instrumental in getting a vocational rehabilitation program started with much help from Phillip Quochytewa Sr.”
He said Assist to Independence hopes to extend the services it provides to the Southern Paiute Tribe.
“We do have on and off contact with the Southern Paiute Tribe. It would be beneficial to work with them to find out their needs and to find funds to meet the needs of all three tribes. Our ultimate dream is to work more closely with them and be in contact with all the agencies. We constantly need to educate people about people with disabilities and agencies need to be more open minded and sensitive to their needs.”
A community issue is to work with the disabled individuals that want to come back to participate in cultural ceremonies. Consumers are also able to receive assistance from local medicine men for traditional healing purposes. Within two years, more than one thousand were helped through the Assist to Independence program.
The office is now a very special place for the disabled citizens of Tuba City and surrounding areas.
One special aspect is Assist to Independence Board Secretary/Treasurer’s Gleave Isaac’s determination to be a leader for the Diné Disabilities Support Group in Kayenta, which was established in 2003. The support group currently meets in Kayenta on the second Thursday of each month from 1-3 p.m. in the home of one of the members. Anyone of any age or disability is welcome to attend. Snacks are provided.
“At one time, the support group fizzled out due to lack of interest,” Gleave said. “After a year, he was approached by Dr. Ellen Rothman, a United States Indian Health Service physician in Kayenta to restore the program. Now the program is going strong.”
At that time, Dr. Rothman had connections with the late Christopher Reeves Foundation, which helped with a pool lift for disabled patients at Monument Valley High School. Other activities included a ski trip to Purgatory, Colo., cookouts and holiday parties. Some future activities being planned are river-rafting trips to Durango, Colo. and a wheelchair basketball tournament.
“It’s good to have this on the reservation and get disabled people out of their homes. We would like to encourage people to be active,” Gleave said. “We need volunteers for team members to help with the wheelchair basketball program and other programs. There’s also a lot of things happening out there. We need to share our ideals and make things happen!”
Like Michael did…. he wanted things to happen on the reservation for people with disabilities and it did.
“Hopefully, someday Tuba City and other surrounding communities will be fortunate to have a support group— a place where all people with disabilities can come together to express their emotions, thoughts and just be together.”
The current Assist to Independence Board of Directors includes President Doris Dennison, Tohatchi, N.M.; Vice-President Peterson Yazzie, Vanderwagon, N.M.; and Secretary/Treasurer Sophia Quotskuyva, Kykotsmovi. Board members at large include Art Hardy, Window Rock; Vera Ridell, Tuba City; Cecelia Fred, Gallup, N.M.; Eric Billy of Dilkon; and Secretary/Treasurer Gleave Isaac, Cow Springs.
All meetings are held quarterly and are public record. The next board meeting will be held in March 24 in Moenkopi Community Building.
Monetary donations and/or assistance are strongly encouraged, welcomed and appreciated! Financial assistance, services and home modifications are extremely valuable to enable disabled citizens to become independent, and their participation in activities reflect the improvements of their physical, mental and daily challenges.
For more information on the Assist to Independence Office in Tuba City, Arizona call 928- 283-6261 or toll free at 888-848-1449 or P.O. Box #4133, Tuba City, Arizona 86045 or e- mail at: assist email@example.com.
(Esther Kootswatewa Honyestewa is a reporter for the Hopi Tutuveni and resides in Hotevilla.)