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Gary Maddox shows one of Southwest Center for Independent Living's assistive technologies, a closed-circuit television used to enlarge reading materials.
Gary Maddox shows one of Southwest Center for Independent Living's assistive technologies, a closed-circuit television used to enlarge reading materials.

Business Spotlight: Training for a Living

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When visitors enter the 16,500-square-foot Southwest Center for Independent Living, they’re met with a strong message of perseverance. The bright hallways are adorned with quotes from activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Ed Roberts, widely considered the father of the disability rights movement.

“People expected us to fail,” Roberts’ quote reads. “That didn’t happen.”

Gary Maddox, executive director of the center, says the words serve as a daily mantra for Southwest Center for Independent Living, 2864 S. Nettleton Ave., a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring a life free of barriers for persons with disabilities.

“It’s important for people to understand that independent living centers developed out of the civil rights movement. People with disabilities, they have historically faced a lot of attitudinal types of barriers and architectural types of barriers,” Maddox says. “There are a lot of stereotypes and a lot of wrong impressions or images of persons with disabilities that go way back into our country’s history.”

Since opening in 1986, SCIL has offered assistance to people with disabilities through on-site independent living training programs, in-home care, peer support and advocacy.

Maddox, the Springfield center’s director since 2006, started the Center for Independent Living in the northwest Missouri town of Gallatin in 1996. He says one of the major tenets of the independent living philosophy is consumer choice, most notably in consumer-directed services. The consumer-directed services plan was created by Centers for Independent Living, a community-based program mandated by federal standards with more than 400 centers nationwide, and allows consumers who qualify for Medicaid the freedom of hiring their own personal care attendants, including family members. The consumer-directed services program is the alternative to traditional in-home care, in which SCIL appoints, trains and manages attendants. In addition to Medicaid, the in-home services program accepts private pay and veteran’s benefits.

Of SCIL’s roughly $6 million dollar operating budget, about 50 percent goes to pay the nearly 400 part-time personal care attendants under the consumer-directed services model. The center’s revenue sources are a combination of Medicaid fee for services, federal and state independent living grants and donations.

With half of the center’s staff and board members being persons with disabilities, Maddox says SCIL provides first-hand insight.

“We provide services for persons with disabilities by people with disabilities,” Maddox says. “We’re able to model the fact that people with disabilities can work, be independent and raise a family.”

In addition to key decision-making within the organization, SCIL consumers are also in charge of their own advocacy, becoming better accustomed to educating the public and discussing accessibility improvements with local business owners, employers and landlords, Maddox says.

“We try to teach people with disabilities to be their own best advocate. In order to do that, they need to be informed about what the law says,” Maddox says. “We try and give them the tools they need to talk to business owners and people out in the community (about how) there’s business here and you’re losing our business if we can’t get in.”

One of those resources is Amber Audrain, a disability advocate who helps people with disabilities find housing, specializing in nursing home transitions. Audrain helps SCIL consumers create relationships with landlords and social workers and obtain financial assistance from the Money Follows the Person grant, which helps former nursing home residents get settled back into a community.

“It makes it more feasible for them to move because a lot of times finances are a massive barrier,” Audrain says. “The consumer gets to start taking control over their life again, which is huge.”

Rick and Janice Gray, a married couple who came to the center three years ago, were able to continue living independently in their home through in-home care and a SCIL-provided shower chair and a grab-bar installed near the bathtub.

“They have been wonderful helping us with stuff that we just couldn’t afford,” Rick Gray says. “Without them, I don’t know what we would have done. We would have probably ended up living with our kids or in a nursing home.”

Maddox says his primary goal for the future is to build a 17,000-square-foot building across the street from the center to expand the in-home care and assistive technology departments, which he hopes will provide further resources for the rapidly growing consumer base. Due to monetary setbacks, the expansion is currently on hold.

Because SCIL’s funding used to serve counties surrounding Greene County is less than 10 percent of its budget, Maddox says the organization faces a strain on its already limited resources.

“Our (coverage) area is about 4,400 square miles,” Maddox says.  “The challenge is to come up with a way to get the other facility up to serve as a hub to be able to reach out more.”[[In-content Ad]]

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