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Largo center takes desperation out of disabilities

The woman came looking for hope.

Her son was a young adult with a recent spinal cord injury and she didn't know how her family would cope with the devastating event.

The distraught mother turned to Largo's Caring and Sharing Center for Independent Living (CASCIL), 12552 Belcher Road S.

Serving Pinellas and Pasco counties, CASCIL's mission is to empower people with disabilities. Providing information, resources, advocacy and hope is its daily business.

"This was obviously a tremendously difficult time for her," said Mary Twohey, office manager. "I felt good about the measure of comfort and hope it gave her to talk with me."

Twohey has quadriplegia. "I was in the same boat her son is in with a spinal cord injury as an adult," she said. "I remember how hard it was on my family when I was injured."

CASCIL officials say people are often stunned to hear the number of people who are disabled. And those numbers are growing.

"Census data indicates there are 205,000 people with disabilities in Pinellas County and 88,000 in Pasco County," said Doug Towne, public liaison. "The true number of the disabled is much higher because seniors often don't self-identify as having a disability. They just consider it getting old."

The services CASCIL offers are as varied as the customers seeking answers. A caller worries about how he'll take care of his medical needs during a hurricane. A daughter has questions about home modifications for her injured mother. Others seek assistance with transitioning from school, employment or institutions into the community.

Although CASCIL has served the area for more than 15 years, Towne said many who would benefit from its services are still unaware of the organization.

Funded with state and federal money, the center is seeking new resources as the amount of public funding decreases.

"We've received competitive grants and work with a number of private foundations," Towne said. "We also rely on volunteer help and conduct various fundraisers. A new thrift shop is open on Fridays at the center."

One of the most pressing concerns they hear from customers is finding meaningful employment.

"Due to the variety of college programs assisting those with disabilities, the disabled are often highly educated," said Cook. "Yet 70 percent of working age adults with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed."

Twohey said she found she was able to do her job with just a few minor adaptations.

"I use a trackball and a typing stick," she said. "We fashioned a rope handle so I could open a filing cabinet."

Towne, who has been blind since age 10, also uses a few small tools. He has talking software installed on his computer and a specialized device for sending and receiving e-mails.

Each individual seeking help from CASCIL brings a different story and a new challenge, and the staff tries to lead by example.

"We all draw inspiration from each other and so do our consumers," said Towne. "It is more than a job, it is a calling. You get frustrated but we have accomplishments every day."

Largo center takes desperation out of disabilities 06/21/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 21, 2008 4:31am]
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