Contractor helps handicapped live independently Columbia woman renovates houses so disabled can stay in their homes HOWARD COUNTY BUSINESS

December 24, 1992|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

After 20 years of pushing pencils at a desk job, Rose Cohen is wielding a hammer and she has the callouses to prove it.

It's been just over a year since the 36-year-old Columbia resident started Roseworks! inc., a one-woman construction firm specializing in renovations for the disabled.

"My business is an extension of what I had been doing for the last 20 years -- working with people who have disabilities," said Ms. Cohen.

Her career has included running adult day care centers and directing residential programs for the United Cerebral Palsy Association in Washington.

Ms. Cohen decided the time was right to start a business after her federally funded job ended. She had worked as director of the Quality Assurance Network of the Human Services Institute in Columbia. The group assesses lifestyles of disabled people and, if necessary, connects them with agencies to help improve the quality of their life.

Her husband, Richard Silver, is in his third year of medical school at the University of Maryland. They have two young daughters and live in the Village of Owen Brown.

"I did not want to work in a traditional setting. . . . I still wanted a connection with the kind of work that I had done all of my life," Ms. Cohen said.

The spark for her business ignited after Ms. Cohen built a curved wall in her home that opened with a "grand kind of entryway." Her friends liked it and asked if she would do some home projects for them.

With a contractor's license and a trunkful of tools in her Mazda GLC, Ms. Cohen tackled her first job: building a ramp for a man who had injured his back and had moved into a townhouse with relatives.

It was to be constructed off three steps on a sidewalk, yet it could not interfere with people using the sidewalk, Ms. Cohen said.

She designed a hinged ramp that could be pulled down whenever in use.

"Logistic glitches can be overcome. It can make the difference in a person's safety and the way he or she uses his or her house efficiently, and what can be accomplished during the day," Ms. Cohen said.

Sometimes seniors and disabled people with special needs can live at home longer by making such changes.

"If somebody needs a door 36 inches wide, I have the background to understand why and to know what the options are," Ms. Cohen said. She refers to the reference library in her self-designed office-bedroom, which contains product catalogs for such items as hand-held shower nozzles and kitchen stoves with easy-to-reach burners and front knobs. Because Ms. Cohen says she is familiar with services for the disabled in Howard County, she often advises clients about where they can go for their particular needs.

"I want to assist people in whatever way I can to stay in the place where they want to live," she said.

Today, Ms. Cohen drives a used "farm truck," a Ford 350 with an extended cab that was once used to carry horses.

"I needed something large enough to carry two daughters [to pre-school] and enough materials to do a decent-size job," she said.

Ms. Cohen knows the ins and outs of "pocket" doors, which open flush and are more accessible for people in wheelchairs.

Tub lifts and grab bars also are in her repertoire.

She advises empty nesters -- parents of grown children -- to think ahead before moving to a new home.

"They should think about their lifestyle and things such as their home's accessibility to the outdoors and whether steps can be easily ramped . . . the height of toilets and installing grab bars are things that you can make adjustments for now and get used to," Ms. Cohen said.

She also urges people to consider whether their future home will have one floor and to think about functional areas like bathrooms that could make "a big difference in your life 20 years from now.

"The earlier you think about these things, the greater your options," she said.

Her business handles about three projects a month, and she says most of her clients are referred by therapy staffs in hospitals and home health agencies that she worked with in her previous career.

"I want to be able to help people live in a better way by living in their community rather than an institution," she said.

TIPS FOR INDEPENDENT LIVING

1. People with poor vision can see switch plates easier if they are painted in a contrasting color.

2. Use wall-mounted fixtures, floor lamps or table lamps for lighting. Ceiling-mounted fixtures can be hazardous when changing light bulbs.

3. Sharp corners of kitchen counter tops should be rounded to avoid injuries.

4. Wheelchairs can travel more smoothly on flat surfaces such as low-pile carpet. Fasten down mats at front door; avoid scatter rugs that can slide easily underfoot.

5. Think about your lifestyle and create a living situation that allows you to do the activities you choose. If you are a gardener, for example, raised flower beds will allow you to tend to the plants more easily.

6. Look for appliances that are easier to use, such as side by side refrigerators, which allow easy access to freezer compartments. Stoves should have controls in front to avoid reaching over flames.

7. Seniors who use a wheelchair should be able to reach switch plates and plugs. Both can be lowered or raised for accessibility.

8. A visit to the Idea House, 3003 Fait Ave. in Baltimore, will give seniors more ideas about living comfortably and independently. The rowhouse -- a project sponsored by the South East Senior Housing Initiative -- is modified and outfitted with things like a stair-glide to suit the needs of senior residents and is open to the public. For more information, call 558-3656 or 327-6193.

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