Kevin Butler, a member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, was not always in a wheelchair. Ten years ago, he was injured when he fell off a building. It changed the rest of his life.
Butler and several other Community members were among the attendees at the sixth annual American Indian Disability Summit, hosted at the Sheraton Phoenix Airport Hotel in Tempe on March 17.
The summit provides an opportunity for people with disabilities to learn about new assistive technology, share their stories and discuss the struggles of living with a disability, and offer support for overcoming obstacles.
Butler said he likes coming to these summits because of the stories he has heard. He has even made some friends, like artist Carl Endischee, who was paralyzed at 21-years-old after an accident caused by a drunk driver. Endischee, who is Navajo, does all his paintings by mouth since he lost the ability to use his hands and the rest of his body. The pair met three years ago and have been friends ever since; Butler boasted about Endischee’s artwork, stating that it can take up to three months for him to finish one painting.
Various organizations at the summit displayed and demonstrated new technology that can assist people with disabilities. Arizona Relay Service (AZRS), a public service provided by the State of Arizona, provides devices that make telephone communication easy, accessible and reliable. Lisa Furr, outreach coordinator for Arizona Relay, demonstrated the different services for the hard of hearing, deaf, deaf-blind and people with speech disabilities. To use AZRS, TTY users should call 711, set up a personal profile, and find out which one of their numerous programs work for their particular disability. More information is available at www.azrelay.org.
People with hearing impairments did not have it so easy just 20 years ago. Furr said that she, her brother and her parents are all deaf, and when she was growing up they had to rely on neighbors to make phone calls for them.
Furr said people who receive calls from people using the Arizona Relay Service need to be aware of the caller and not hang up. The key things to say are “GA,” which means go ahead, and to conclude the call you would say, “SK,” meaning stop keying.
Today’s assistive technology has advanced significantly for people with disabilities, who now can use computers and the Internet, make calls, and do things they never would have thought possible.
“My disability has made me a stronger person,” Butler said. “Before the accident I was a quiet person, but now I am more outgoing.” He said this with a smile, as he rolled his wheelchair back and forth, bumping it off the wall and doing mini-wheelies. He also has a special bicycle that he pedals with his arms. He said, “You can always find me riding my bike around the Community.”
Today Butler lives independently with his dog, Meanie.