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Ramps open the doors to freedom

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Ed Tower of Columbus had heard of accessibility hurdles with public buildings. Linking the issue with people’s private houses stunned him earlier this year, though.

“It’s nearly unbelievable how many people are almost prisoners in their own homes because they can’t easily get in and get out,” he said.

Tower met people in Indianapolis, Greenwood and Shelbyville in that situation a few months ago. That’s when he volunteered with Indianapolis’ Servants At Work to build at-home wheelchair ramps for physically disabled people.

“I saw these people with big, broad smiles (afterward),” Tower said of the disabled clients. “And, actually, that wasn’t just from those who needed the ramps but from the caregivers, too.”

Now, Tower and other volunteer builders here soon will construct home ramps for older Bartholomew County women who need the assistance.

That’s the aim of a new program, “Ramps to Freedom,” purposely kicking off just before Independence Day. Applications for help will be accepted beginning today.

The Women’s Giving Circle of The Heritage Fund: The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County donated $5,000 to cover initial building materials for the pilot project, according to Carol Davis. She’s the resource development director for the Columbus-based Aging and Community Services of South Central Indiana, the agency organizing the work.

It will toil alongside Columbus’ Housing Partnerships Inc., a nonprofit builder, and Servants At Work on the effort.

The focus on women links to the initial project financial support.

“We realized that there are a lot of women in need, and they don’t often ask for a lot,” Davis said.

She added that women still outnumber men as caregivers. Figures from the 2010 Census show that 10 percent of the county population are women 60 and older. Plus, Census figures also show that 1,797 residents age 65 and older live with ambulatory disabilities.

Davis said general, aging-related mobility issues and chronic illness among the older population have increased the need for such a program.

She said the wooden ramps will be portable and reusable if clients move or no longer need them.

“I don’t think we can adequately describe this program in words,” Davis said. “These ramps represent an open door to the world.”

The giving circle’s initial gift should cover the first six ramps, according to organizers. Davis already is working to locate and generate more funds.

“I do think that the donors and the volunteers will be there when we need them,” she said. “We know without a doubt that the need is there.”

Ramps to Freedom carries income guidelines for women to qualify. For example, a woman living alone has to make more than $19,000 but less than $27,600.

The ramps generally will require about two days of work among four to eight volunteers, depending upon their construction skill and experience, according to Tower.

He mentioned that he’s glad to see organizations willing to work together to meet needs.

“This,” he said, “is a win-win situation for everybody.”

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