Access to Independence
For many visitors, the initial visit to San Diego’s Access to Independence office is an urgent one. They might find themselves in quick need of home modifications or suddenly without medical benefits. But over time, they realize the scope of the center’s resources, and they come back repeatedly.
Such is the case with Access to Independence Executive Director and San Diego State alum Louis Frick. Frick, who is currently back at SDSU pursuing an MA in rehabilitation counseling, become a quadriplegic after being involved in a car accident at age 19. The hospital referred him to Access to Independence to find a personal care attendant. The attendant then referred Frick to his sister, who worked with the organization as a job counselor. After going through job training Frick was hired by Access to Independence. He worked with the organization for a few years, left to pursue other paths for a few more, then found himself back with Access to Independence for good. According to Frick, his story is not unique. The organization runs on positive referral and sees many individuals come in for one need then circle back, sometimes even decades later, for another.
For more than 35 years Access to Independence has served as a hub of resources for people with disabilities. The non-profit organization focuses on promoting independent living and community integration.
“Our goal is to help people with disabilities of all ages and all types become as independent as they choose,” Frick said.
Employment services are one of the many resources Access to Independence offers. In response to a 74.3 percent unemployment rate among California’s disabled community, the organization provides job preparation, placement and retention services. Through the program, individuals have been successfully placed in jobs with the Padres, Seaworld, Qualcomm and more.
Another key program, Accessibility 100, serves to provide accessible homes for disabled individuals. Grant funds from Housing and Urban Development have led to modifications in more than 320 homes since December 2008. These modifications include anything from wheelchair ramps and handrails to adjusting the height of kitchen counters. But Access to Independence doesn’t just focus on modifying existing homes, it is also advocating for contractors and builders to keep accessibility in mind when creating new residences. The organization played a significant role in the passing of San Diego’s Voluntary Accessibility Program Amendment, which provides incentives to encourage accessible design.
Employment and housing services are just a few resources on a growing list of free Access to Independence programs. Other services include assistive technology education and outreach, peer counseling, personal assistance resources, community integration support, and community outreach. The organization also focuses heavily on advocacy at a local, state and national level. For example, Frick is the chair of the Mayor’s committee on disabilities, serves on the California Independent Living Council, and spent six years on the National Council on Independent Living board.
For as much guidance and resources as Access to Independence provides, its goal remains to help disabled individuals maximize their independence and merge seamlessly into the greater community.
“The independent living philosophy is really one of self determination,” Frick said. “Our job is to be helpful but to let the individual direct their own lives in whatever way that’s meaningful to them.”