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Boost for disabled in rural areas

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July 26, 2005

Donalsonville-- The little things some people take for granted, like automatic doors, can make a world of difference to the disabled. Many disabled people manage just fine without such conveniences, but the situation doesn't have to be that way.

"I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 19. I took my last steps in February of 1997. I still drive. I still go just about anywhere I want to. I do pretty well. I do have to have help in some businesses, like in restaurants," says Gill Kelley, Jr.

He is using what independence he has to help other disabled people in rural areas gain theirs. "We're exploring what Seminole County has to offer, and what it needs to offer to make Donalsonville and Seminole County more accessible, says Kelley.

Kelley is part of a special committee on the matter. From housing and education, to recreation and health issues, Beth English of Easter Seals, Georgia, says the "Rural Solutions" pilot project is crucial to equality in small communities. "It's to help communities look at how to develop their assets and become more welcoming to people with disabilities," says English.

She adds that grass roots meetings like this one are important because people in rural communities generally stand by one and other. "People know each other, they're used to working with each other," says English.

That's why after a couple of more meetings, results are expected to be seen within six months. "They're tackling a lot of hard issues. They're setting some short term goals as well as some long term goals," says English.

Kelley hopes those goals will be met for everyone who needs them, disabled or not. "At some point in your life, you're just about going to need automatic doors of some type when you get older," he says.

That's almost a guarantee, solidified by the one in five Americans who live in rural areas. Of those people, it's estimated that 12.5 million have a disability. Easter Seals' initiative to help those people is partly paid for by the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.

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