Locals pitch in to help develop Web site for the disabled

By Tish Butts

Published:Saturday, January 16, 2010 2:13 AM CST

An informational database is being developed to aid thousands of Mississippians living with disabilities in finding programs that accommodate their needs.  The site is expected to start up in the spring.  The River 5 team of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps worked with O’Keefe Educational Media of Gulfport to build Disability Connection, a database of almost 2,000 resources that offers services for daily living, health care, recreation, travel, support and mental wellness — as well as a social networking component for people with disabilities, AmeriCorps Community Relations Specialist Erika Roberts said.  The team worked with the directors of OEM to add contact information for other nonprofit organizations that will be made available.  Team member Jacob Dvorak, 21, of Florida, who recently found out that Attention Deficit Disorder is a disability, said he was able to contribute tools to help those who suffer from ADD.

Another team member, Summer Hasan, 20, of Texas, said people with disabilities often don’t know about programs or their availability from one county to the next. The idea is to connect them “with things they need,” she said.  The Internet resource center is designed to accommodate anyone with disabilities and allow for the addition of resources, Roberts said.  Janie O’Keefe, who founded the nonprofit organization with her husband, James O’Keefe, in 2002, set out to build the database after meeting a 35-year-old man in a wheelchair who had been homebound for 14 years.  “Many Americans are faced with disability issues within their families, friends and community,” she said.” In 2007, in Mississippi alone, an estimated 548,000 people age 5 and older were recorded as having a disability. That was 20.7 percent of the population.”  O’Keefe began her journey in 2003 by contacting the Harrison County Development Commission, Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau and Biloxi City Hall, but found that a list of activities for people with disabilities was not available. Efforts of OEM met setbacks in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed work on an educational film project, Roberts said. The O’Keefes then turned to the Internet to reach a larger audience.  While working with the team at the NCCC Southern Region Campus on Confederate Avenue in Vicksburg from Nov. 29 through mid-December, O’Keefe welcomed donations from Walmart and Ameristar Casino to help make the project possible.  Bess Averett, public relations manager for Ameristar Casino in Vicksburg, said the Washington Street business donates either service or funding to several large projects each year where they can “do the most good.”  “It’s always nice to be a part of a bigger project,” she said.

She said providing O’Keefe with lodging and meals for about 18 nights was an easy “yes” for the company founded by Craig Hart Neilsen, who was paralyzed in a car wreck in 1984 while driving from Nevada to Idaho.  He established The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation in 2003 to support research in finding a cure for spinal cord injuries and disease, as well as funding rehabilitation programs for those afflicted. Neilsen died in 2006.  O’Keefe said she has been considering working with another NCCC team in March to complete the project.  NCCC inducted 160 members ages 18-24 in September to serve 11 Southern states — West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi.  In mid-December, the teams finished their second round of projects. They serve in recovery, disaster preparation, public safety, response, environmental conservation and education.  Other regional campuses are in Denver, Colo.; Sacramento, Calif.; Perry Point, Md.; and Vinton, Iowa.

Contact Tish Butts at tbutts@vicksburgpost.com

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