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Building to better the lives of others

August 30, 1998

Ramp BuilderBy GUY FLETCHER / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer [enlarge]




Until now, Victoria Smith has been a virtual prisoner in her own home.

Suffering from a nerve disease and other medical conditions, she cannot walk without crutches. That makes it impossible for her to leave her Broadway apartment, and negotiate the steps in front of the building, without assistance.

Smith, 47, said she once went three months without leaving the apartment, except for a few trips to the doctor. "I have been miserable, depressed and ready to give up," the Hagerstown woman said.

But on Saturday volunteers from the nonprofit Corporation for Assistive Technology built Smith a ramp that will allow her to routinely leave the apartment, using her wheelchair and motorized scooter to get outside whenever she chooses.

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The ramp is one of a handful already built by the organization, which was created out of the Washington County Commission on Aging last year. Fred Otto, executive director of the commission, said the idea came after his drivers, who take elderly people to the grocery store, doctor's office and other places, noticed that many potential passengers were confined to their homes.

"Our drivers observed that many people cannot take advantage of our transportation because they can't get out the house," Otto said.

That was the beginning of the organization, which works to allow people to continue to live in their own homes while not being cut off from the world around them, said Bill Beard, executive director of the Corporation for Assistive Technology.

The organization relies strongly on donations of money, materials and services, and volunteers, to build the ramps. The ramp at Smith's apartment cost $2,000, which Beard said is far below what the project would have traditionally cost.

And he said the value increases because the ramps are built as temporary structures, with removable sections that are not anchored into the ground. If a ramp no longer is needed at one location, it can be easily moved to another, he said.

"It's fun. It's like an Erector Set," Beard said.

Depending on the income of the person needing the ramp, the organization charges for all, some or none of the cost. Smith did not have to pay for her ramp, Beard said.

In addition to building ramps, the organization also sponsors a demonstration center at the Potomac Towers apartment building, where people can see and use various devices, such as adapted eating utensils and telephone aids, aimed at primarily helping older adults.

"These assistive devices help seniors do those daily living skills they couldn't do without them," Otto said.

As for Smith, she is happy with her new ramp and has immediate plans to visit her grandmother, who lives in the Elizabeth Court apartment building several blocks away.

"It's wonderful they could do this for people," she said.

For more information about the ramps, call the Corporation for Assistive Technology at 301-745-6444, or visit its office at 9 Public Square in downtown Hagerstown.

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