`Changes for the better'

Advocacy: The Howard County Commission on Disability Issues honors individuals and groups for their efforts on behalf of people with disabilities.

October 04, 2002|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Four individuals and two organizations were recognized yesterday for their achievements on behalf of people with disabilities at the annual awards breakfast of the Howard County Commission on Disability Issues.

Among them were a teen-ager who lobbied the County Council to make its meeting room more accessible, a woman who took care of 10 children while helping other parents navigate the school bureaucracy as advocates for their children with disabilities, a legally blind man who became a successful computer system analyst and a man who helped a man with autism through a difficult time.

All received their awards at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Columbia.

In addition, Howard Transit, the county's public bus system, was lauded for its efforts to accommodate people with disabilities, with devices such as ramps and lifts on buses, ride programs specifically for people with disabilities, updated routes, maps, shelters and signs, and a program to teach individuals to navigate the bus system.

NeighborCare, a pharmacy and medical supply company, was named Employer of the Year for integrating five individuals with disabilities into the workplace.

As he opened the award ceremony, County Executive James N. Robey said, "Each passing year, we see changes for the better." He said he was particularly pleased that that the County Council had added closed captioning to the televised broadcasts of county meetings, and noted that the Banneker Room, where the County Council meets, is now more accessible to people who use wheelchairs and those with other mobility issues.

Youth Award winner Christina Gregg, a senior at Atholton High School in Columbia, helped lobby for changes to the Banneker Room, and brought a young person's viewpoint before the commission. She also suggested ways for school cafeterias to be made more accessible to people with disabilities.

Gregg, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, said she often was segregated in school until she began speaking up.

"If I don't do something, no one else will," she said.

Tonia Lewis, who received the Ralph Mulloy Advocacy Award, is the mother of three children and raised four nieces and nephews. She also adopted three children with health and developmental challenges.

"I just fell in love with the children," she said.

Lewis, a registered nurse and a parent coordinator for the Howard County Board of Education, said, "I get a charge out of advocacy."

"I am a firm believer in independence," said Lewis, who lives in Columbia. "If I empower people ... to advocate for themselves, empowerment is independence."

Mitchell Penney of Columbia received the Service Provider Award for his work as a one-on-one staff member with the Athelas Institute Inc. In taking care of a man with autism, Penney has driven the man to Rhode Island and helped him through his mother's funeral.

The Individual Achievement Award went to Pierre Columbel of Baltimore, who faced the challenge of a degenerative eye disease that left him legally blind. He earned his bachelor's degree in information systems from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and became certified in Microsoft.

Now he uses low-vision aids and support from the county Division of Rehabilitation Services to work as a systems analyst for an information systems company.

Avery Smith, a rehabilitation specialist with the Division of Rehabilitation Services, said when nominating Columbel that the latter has inspired him "to not accept defeat in the face of adversity."

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