Columbia considers opening village services to disabled

March 28, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Joyce Irby would like to visit Columbia during the day to practice drawing at the arts center, eat at a sub shop and swim at a community pool.

Truth be known, Ms. Irby has some fear of the water, said Andrea Strassman, program manager at the Howard County Association for Retarded Citizens. But Columbia has several "beach entrance" pools allowing swimmers to walk into the water without negotiating steps, making it easier for people with developmental disabilities, she said.

Ms. Irby, 38, would be one of the initial participants in a "social integration" program being developed by ARC and the Columbia Association, the nonprofit agency that runs Columbia's recreational facilities and programs. The Columbia Council, which sets policy for the association, will consider adopting the program at its April 8 meeting.

The program would allow ARC clients in the agency's vocational program to make transactions at Columbia village shopping centers, work at community-oriented jobs, become involved in recreational, creative and leisure activities at Columbia facilities and meet people outside their ARC workshop and their living situations.

"We're anticipating it will give them an opportunity to form some relationships, the same way you and I would," said John Callanan, director of ARC's day services. "They can broaden their horizons, show what contributions they can make to the community and share a life."

Ms. Irby lives in a Columbia town house with a "community living assistant" under ARC's residential program. She works at Ellicott Enterprises, the association's vocational division, which contracts to perform a variety of jobs for private businesses. Ms. Irby's typical tasks include collating, folding, stuffing envelopes and filling jugs of birdseed.

Ann Scherr, the Columbia Association's assistant director of community services, introduced the proposal to the council March 11. Under the plan, about 30 clients would be divided into groups of six to eight for visits to Columbia between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Only one group would visit per day, starting on a schedule of one or two days a week.

"It's kind of scary for me to jump with both feet into it, but Ann assured me if we fall down, we'll pick back up and try again," said Ms. Strassman, who proposed the idea to the Columbia Association staff. "We're going to work on it until it works."

Ellicott Enterprises would drive the participants to Columbia. At least one ARC staff member would be assigned for every two participants.

Hours worked by ARC clients on community projects would be credited toward Package Plan memberships to Columbia pools, health clubs or other recreational facilities.

"We have to get the community aware of the fact that these people need to be able to use these facilities freely," said Ms. Strassman.

The Columbia Teen Center has been offered as a base for ARC groups during off hours and for activities such as cooking,

billiards and Ping Pong.

Village managers from Harper's Choice and Long Reach have offered space in their meeting centers and the Columbia Association's Aquatics Department would accept the groups into accessible pools.

The Columbia Arts Center also would provide basic artistic supplies and the association's volunteer coordinator would seek volunteers to work with the groups.

Several Columbia Council members expressed support for the proposal. David Berson, a nonvoting member from River Hill village, called it an "outstanding idea. Integration into the community is one of the best things you can do," he said.

ARC is changing its Day Habilitation Program, which has a vocational orientation, to a Medical Day Program, which is tailored more to individual needs and emphasizes community involvement, work, recreation and therapy.

About 27 people are in the Day Habilitation Program, and they would be participants in the program with the Columbia Association.

"It's for people with conditions where the main focus might not be vocational in the future," said Ms. Strassman. "The community needs to know that not everyone is capable vocationally."

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