Editor’s Note: When triple degree holder Jose Gonzalez returned home after living abroad, he was struggling to find a job and wondering what to do next with his life. After applying for services with the California Department of Rehabilitation, a state run employment and independent living agency for people with disabilities, he was placed at the Southern California Resource Services for Independent Living (SCRS-IL) as a youth transition specialist. Gonzalez took some time out of his busy day to fill us in on everything the center has to offer.
History of the Independent Living Movement and the SCRS-IL
Ed Roberts, who had a severe disability, started the independent living movement at the University of California Berkeley. He believed that vocational and academic goals should not be impeded by a disability and that everyone should have equal access to resources. As he started advocating for change in the 1960s, more and more people started following him.
In 1979, the Southern California Resource Services for Independent Living was opened by a group of people with disabilities. The independent living movement says that through resources that can be provided by multiple entities, a person with disabilities can go to school, gain employment, live by themselves, and aspire to be anything they’d like to be. We aim to help people fulfill that mission at the SCRS-IL.
Editor’s Note: More information on Ed Roberts and his role in the independent living movement can be found here: www.ilusa.com/links/022301ed_roberts.htm
What We Do at the SCRS-IL
Assistive Technology: We aim to provide any device that can help a person with disabilities live a more independent life. That may include a wheelchair, a walker, an iPad for people who cannot speak, special beds, home modifications, canes, eyeglasses, software, or computers. We advocate on the client’s behalf to try to get their insurance to pay, but if they refuse, and we have what they need, we will make it available to them. If we don’t already have it in our inventory, we’ll see how we can get it.
For wheelchair users specifically, let’s say you recently acquired a disability or your current wheelchair broke. You can come into our center and do an intake with our assistive technology facilitator. She will take it upon herself to see if your insurance will cover a new wheelchair or repairs to your existing chair. If they won’t, we will provide it to you completely free of charge.
We also offer IT services. If anyone has a computer or assistive technology that needs repair, our IT department will fix it free of charge.
Youth Transition Services: I work with anyone ages 14-26 who would like help transitioning from middle to high school, high school to higher education, and higher education to employment. I assist with college and job applications, mock interviews, and career guidance.
Youth Programming: We’re the only Independent Living Center that offers a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program for youth with disabilities. For our pilot braille printer program, engineers employed by the Columbia Memorial Space Center designed the curriculum, and it is taught in collaboration with SCRS-IL staff members. Our goal is to be able to build fully functional braille printers using Lego Mindstorms EV3 Core Kits and then give them away for free to the blind community. A braille printer usually costs $3,000 to $5,000. As someone who can see, I can buy a regular printer for less than $100; blind people don’t have that luxury.
The second portion of our STEM program entails teaching youth to build and repair computers as well as install software on them. This allows them to be truly independent when it comes to their own computer, so they won’t need a tech.
Editor’s Note: The Columbia Memorial Space Center is the former site of the Apollo program which led the way to the United States successfully landing man on the moon.
Advocacy: If you need assistance filling out paperwork, we have certified benefits specialists that help with applications for things like social security, unemployment, food stamps, and housing. If you are denied, we will help you file a petition. We can help you apply for low-income housing or find homes in the neighborhood you want to live in within your budget. We also have an advocate who can help with legal services and immigration paperwork.
Peer Support: If you need someone to listen to you and provide that extra guidance, we have someone on site.
Vocational Services: In collaboration with the Department of Rehabilitation of California, we help people with employment. If you’re registered with them, they’ll refer you to our employment specialist who will sit down with you and create a plan to acquire the kind of job you want. We’ll help with building resumes, interview preparation, and job placement. That’s actually how I got placed here at SCRS-IL!
LGBTQQIAAP Support Group: We have a support group called True Colors for people with disabilities who identify as part of the LGBTQQIAAP community. We are also the first center in southern California to put on a disability pride parade.
Editor’s Note: SCRS-IL’s second annual Disability Pride Parade & Festival is coming up on October 18, 2017. Get all of the details here: www.disabilitypridela.com
Yoga: We provide free yoga classes in several locations. Our certified yoga instructor is a spinal cord injury survivor and a wheelchair user. Through yoga, she was able to accept her disability and her new identity after her accident. She has made it her mission to pass this on to others with disabilities.
Editor’s Note: The SCRS-IL offers a variety of other services and resources not listed here. For further information, visit www.scrs-ilc.org.
How We Are Funded
We get a lot of funding from grants, and as mentioned earlier, we also have a partnership with the California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR). Each time our employment department provides a service to a client, the DOR pays us for having done so. For example, the DOR may refer someone to us for vocational services. We then prepare the client, which usually means they attend some of our classes to learn about resume building, interviewing, or any other course they may need. The DOR then pays us for those services. It’s a beautiful relationship. Together we provide clients with a lot essential services.
What I love About My Job
I job coach clients, so I go on sight with them and act as and advocate and support. Whatever they need to do for the job, I learn it and find ways to teach it to them. In the beginning, it can be overwhelming for the client, so I show them that they are able to do it and that it’s not as difficult as they believe. Within a few weeks, they start gaining independence, and I start fading out. I’m still there, but I’m not doing as much.
That moment when they realize they’re doing it by themselves and seeing the confidence that radiates from them is such a rewarding feeling.
It’s really amazing working with the youth and being able to motivate and push them through these programs. Seeing that light bulb moment when they realize, “Yes, I can do this!” is just incredible.
I also love that I’m able to help people who are also part of the disability community gain the independence that this center helped me gain. At the same time, I never have to hide who I am. I don’t have to be careful about taking medication or not telling anyone I’m having a bad day. We have a very open door policy, and management is extremely encouraging about letting them know if your disability is causing some sort of barrier for you either today or on an ongoing basis.
Personally, I think it’s an identity thing. When I was in high school, I never aspired to be anything. Society says, “You have a disability, you really can’t do anything,” and for a long time, I believed just that. I never thought I would go to college. I never thought I would drive. I never thought I could live independently. One of my mentors took it upon herself to tell me about the importance of higher education. She told me that I could attend college, obtain a degree in any field I wanted, and push myself to be whatever I wanted to be. Now that I am very independent, I see how important it is. It helps with confidence, finding your identity, being truly happy with who you are, and knowing you’re able to do things on your own. I love being able to get up in the morning and deciding what I want to do that day without having to ask anyone for help. I can just do it because I want to do it or because it makes me happy.
How to Obtain Services
We recommend calling the center first to talk about which services you need. That way, we can make an appointment with the correct specialist. You are always welcome to stop in, but we do encourage appointments for faster service. We have offices in the following locations:
East LA: 323-482-0734
Mute, deaf, or hard of hearing: 626-407-3562
Editor’s Note: Everything you need to know about the SCRS-IL can be found on their website and social media pages.
True Colors (LGBTQQIAAP Group): www.facebook.com/lgbtqdtruecolors
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy is excited to get back into writing, something she’s adored since childhood, and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. On top of her work with Wheel:Life, she also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!