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For some disabled people, Tampa is their playground

Three years ago, Dan Casady was wallowing in depression and daytime television.

"I was getting up in the morning and watching The Price is Right," Casady said. "That was the highlight of my day."

Casady was injured in a car accident in 1976. He spent years putting his life back together only to become disillusioned and quit his job.

Then he found quad rugby, a hybrid sport played in wheelchairs on a basketball court. The discovery changed his life.

"Before, I had so much time on my hands. Now I've got too many things to do and not enough time to do them," he said.

In April, the Tampa Generals quad rugby team brought home its second national title. Mayor Sandra Freedman declared Tuesday Tampa General Quad Rugby Team Day.

Casady got back into life, and eventually became the community outreach coordinator for Self Reliance Inc., a non-profit organization that helps others do the same.

The activity that changed Casady's life is one of dozens available through the city, county and area rehabilitation centers. If the able-bodied can do it, people with disabilities won't be far behind, said Karen Jacobs, sports coordinator at Tampa General Hospital.

Kayaking, scuba diving, tubing, water skiing, tennis and basketball already have been conquered. Now Jacobs has her sights set higher.

"I don't know about parasailing," Jacobs said at Tuesday's quarterly meeting of the Mayor's Alliance for Persons With Disabilities. "I haven't checked into that yet, but I think that can be done as well."

The Mayor's Alliance is a coordinating agency for area organizations serving people with disabilities. Formed in 1986, the group has about 250 volunteer members working to improve accessibility, transportation, employment and education.

Al Orr, Hillsborough County therapeutic program manager, said that while many services are available, only a fraction of the county's disabled community is using them.

"(The county is) seeing only 4 percent of our disabled population in our program," Orr said. "If we are talking 12 percent of our population is disabled, we are way short."

County recreation programs operate primarily through the schools with school-age participants, he said. City recreation is open to all ages and abilities, while rehabilitation programs cater specifically to people with disabilities.

Orr noted that the county is planning a $15-million, fully accessible "life center" for the indefinite future. The center, tentatively planned for 30 acres near King High School, would feature a pool, gym, performing arts center, kitchen and retreat facilities, he said.

As of now though, the center is just a dream. "Hopefully before I die or retire," Orr said of the construction date.

But anything else that can be dreamed up can be done, Jacobs said. "There is more to be done than we have time and money to do, is what it boils down to."

Find out more

For information on disabled sports, call:

Tampa General Hospital, 251-7757

Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation, 975-2160

City of Tampa Parks Department, 226-8315

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