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Disability Awareness

October 22, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

Disability Awareness

"Just keep believing in yourself and it will happen"

-Leroy Neville

"It all has to do with respect. We are still human beings. We just do things differently," says Leroy Neville.

The "we" Neville is talking about is people with disabilities. Notice that the "people" in that phrase comes before "disabilities."

People first.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law a little more than 12 years ago, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.

"Attitudes of people have changed a great deal," says Norman Bassett, administrator of the Washington County Office on Disability Issues.

But improving awareness, access and opportunity for people with a diverse range of disabilities is a work in progress.

People with disabilities need accessible, affordable housing. They need education, they need jobs and they need to be able to get to them.

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"Transportation has always been a big issue," says Peggy Martin, chairwoman of the Washington County Disability Advisory Committee. She expects results of a state-mandated transportation 5-year plan for the county to be available early in 2003.

The committee Martin chairs is conducting a countywide survey on employment, transportation, health care, housing, services and technology as they relate to people with disabilities. The committee is hoping for 1,000 responses by the Friday, Nov. 22 deadline.

Ned Spessard has not yet completed the survey, but he will. He's been busy operating his home improvement and new home construction company that employs more than a dozen people.

Spessard, 52, lives in an upscale neighborhood east of Hagerstown in a luxury home he designed himself. A former deputy sheriff and policeman, Spessard says he worked two jobs a lot of his life. "I'm not afraid of work."

Spessard was employed as a superintendent for a trucking company in 1984 when he received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. MS is a disease in which the fatty tissue that protects the central nervous system's nerve fibers is damaged or lost, leaving scar tissue. This scarring impairs the ability of the nerves to conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain, and the symptoms of MS result, according to information on the Web site of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at www.nationalmssociety.org.

"I just didn't feel comfortable sitting home and doing nothing," Spessard says.

He sits - using a couple of battery-operated scooters to get around - but he's not doing nothing. His home, with hardwood ramps that match the floors in his sunken living room, was designed and built to meet his needs. A second story required by development covenants is his wife Loretta's library. There are two patios off the couple's bedroom on the ground floor, and the bathroom includes an accessible shower and drain in the floor.

Spessard planned for the future by building in extra studs and bracing in the walls and ceilings. If he becomes unable to lift himself into his whirlpool bathtub or bed, the home's construction will support the hoist equipment available to help him.

"I don't feel out of place," he says of his neighborhood. He credits his bank and Internet resources in helping him to succeed in business. He credits his wife, as well. The couple has been together since ninth grade. "She's always there," he says. "I couldn't have done it without her."

Hagerstown City Councilman Linn Hendershot, who uses a wheelchair and ventilator, also is blessed with a family that helps him. But he says he takes things for granted sometimes.

"I'm the exception, not the rule," he says.

He has seen awareness and sensitivity to disability improve in accommodations made by the city. But more is needed. He is helping to organize a barrier awareness day in downtown Hagerstown Thursday, Oct. 24.

Leroy Neville, 33, has known about getting around in a wheelchair since October 1990 when his life was suddenly and totally changed by Guillan-Barr syndrome, an inflammatory disorder of the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord, according to www.guillain-barre.com.

Twelve years ago Neville was at work at his factory job when he felt weak and noticed tingling in his hands and feet.

He went to the emergency room, but examination and test results were normal.

He went to work the next day, but before long he couldn't stand up. Back at the hospital, Neville "crashed." Totally paralyzed, unable to breathe, he was flown to University of Maryland Hospital.

Neville spent seven months in the Baltimore hospital, and two more in a rehabilitation center. He spent another year in speech, occupational and physical therapy, three to four hours a day, five days a week at Washington County Hospital's Rehabilitation Services.

Neville had lettered in track at Williamsport High School. He ran relays and hurdles.

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