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Independent approach to needs of disabled

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    Independent approach to needs of disabled

    Monday, March 17, 2003
    Frank Nease
    Independent approach to needs of disabled

    News Tribune

    A man who used a wheelchair wanted to become more independent. His wife had quit her job to care for him, and the family suffered. The man questioned his ability to spend time alone. What if he fell out of his chair?

    Frank Nease, 44, understood the man's situation.

    In 1979, he had narrowly escaped death in a wreck on Highway 65. He suffered a spinal cord injury, but he didn't erect any barriers for himself. He shared tips for preventing an accident and inspired the man who doubted he could stay by himself.

    "He started thinking, 'Why, wait a second. If that guy can do it, I don't know why I can't do it,'" Nease recalled.

    Nease met the other man when he was an independent living specialist in Springfield. In 1997, Nease moved to Mid-Missouri and became the first executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center in Jefferson City.

    Missouri has 22 such centers funded by the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. These centers treat disabled people as consumers who know their own needs.

    "If you have enough drive and determination, you, too, can become more independent," Nease said. "In all likelihood, you'll be a lot happier than if you have someone else calling the shots."

    Sixteen people work at the local Independent
    Living Resource Center. More than half of the board members and staff members must be disabled, according to the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

    Staff members work with area businesses to make them more accessible, and they provide a variety of services for disabled people, including a personal attendant program. The center trains disabled people to become employers of personal attendants.

    "People report that across the board, they are more satisfied with hiring their own people," Nease said. "They have a level of control that gives them the right to succeed and really the right to fail if they don't succeed."

    Nease credits his family, friends and personal attendants for helping him avoid depression after the accident, which affected not only his legs but also his hands. He couldn't grip anything.

    "That was much more of a shock to me than when I was told I wouldn't gain any more movement from paralysis," he said. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, what am I going to do if I can't use my hands?'"

    Therapists at Rusk Rehabilitation Center in Columbia showed him ways to perform everyday tasks.

    He uses a splint that lets him write by moving his arm. He wraps a universal cuff around his hand to hold utensils for eating and a pencil for tapping letters on a keyboard. He gardens with a five-foot-long S-shaped digger that another disabled person made for him. And he drives a van with a ramp. Nease maneuvers his wheelchair into the driver's spot of the van.

    Nease began advocating for disabled people as president of Barrier Free, the organization for disabled students at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He urged members to revitalize the group, and they agreed.

    The group asked for and received signs prohibiting bicycle parking on wheelchair ramps outside Brady Commons, the main student union building. Many students stashed bicycles on the ramps, and wheelchairs couldn't pass.

    "People respected your need to pass, but they didn't understand before the signs were there," he said.

    After graduating from MU in 1986 and attending law school for a year, Nease moved to Springfield where he became an independent living specialist.

    Nease has three stepchildren and two step grandchildren. He met his wife, Benita, 10 years ago when she became his personal attendant.

    "What attracted me to him the most was his independence," said Benita, former education coordinator at the Independent Living Resource Center. "He never really had a barrier. He was always out there doing. Once he's out of bed, there's no stopping him."