By Marissa Willman
When Palm Desert High School grad Vail Horton’s body began to deteriorate after college, he found he could no longer use his artificial limbs. But rather than letting his disability define him, he decided to create a line of products for the disabled and the elderly that would allow them to maintain their mobility without pain. His business was an overwhelming success.
Horton knew he was so successful because of the people who helped him along the way, including his supportive family. As a person with a disability, Horton knew it was all too easy for people like him to decide not to become disconnected. And too many disabled people weren’t going to college or getting jobs because of that disconnection, Horton thought.
From that belief, Incight was born. The organization has been working to empower people with disabilities in the Portland area since 2002 and in the Coachella Valley since 2008.
Incight works with youth with a range of disabilities, including people with physical disabilities, the blind, people with Asperger’s or autism, and gunshot victims. The organization focuses on four key areas of empowerment: education, employment, networking and independence. The organization works to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to be able to excel in these four areas.
Judy May, director of program development for Incight in the Coachella Valley, connects local disabled youth, usually between the ages of 14 and 25, with existing resources. Incight’s Joy in Mobility program also offers recreational support to disabled people of all ages.
Many resources exist for this community, according to May, but people with disabilities usually don’t know how to access them.
“We are a huge resource center,” May said. “We want to get disabled people connected to their community and make sure they don’t fall between the cracks. We want them to get connected and stay connected.”
And if the resources aren’t available, Incight creates opportunities.
It’s crucial for people with disabilities to learn how to ask for and use these resources, May said, especially if they want to succeed in getting a higher education or employment. Incight not only connects the disabled community with resources but teaches them to seek them out on their own.
“From what I’ve seen when I go out in the community and I see my Incight people, they know how to connect,” May said. “They know how to ask for resources and they know what to ask. They’re using their community resources.”
May also said she’s noticed that youth who didn’t go through special education programs in school are less likely to know about the amount of resources available for them. Through Incite, they’re able to get connected.
Another difficult aspect of Incight’s work is trying to track down all the local disabled youth who could benefit from the organization’s resources. May said many of the youth she wants to serve don’t readily reach out due to cultural, economic or other factors. Half of the battle lies in just finding the disabled youth who need help.
“The thing that concerns me the most is that too many are not coming out of their homes and they don’t know where the resources are,” May said.
Also, a big part of Incight’s work is to dispel the misconceptions surrounding the ability of people with disabilities, according to May.
“They can do anything,” May said. “They just do it in a different way.”
In an effort to fight the stigmas affecting the disabled community, May speaks to various organizations, schools, employers and other organizations to educate them on how they can meet the needs of people with disabilities.
“They are people like you and me except that they have a disability,” May said. “They want a job. They want to be educated. They want to own a home and they want a family. They just have an uphill battle getting there.”
Incight’s independence focus empowers people with disabilities through physical mobility and technology.
“There’s nothing that motivates disabled people more than to be mobile,” May said. “It’s good for the body, good for the soul and connects them to people.”
In addition to helping disabled people become physically mobile, Incight trains disabled college-bound students to use assisted technology. While people with disabilities are entitled to use assisted technology in the classroom, many aren’t sure how to access it or use it. Incight has a lending library of equipment that it is able to provide to students while they connect with an agency that provides more permanent equipment. The loaned equipment prevents students from falling behind in school.
“Incight fills the gap so they can stay in the game,” May said.
Incight also focuses on networking opportunities, offering webinar training on essential topics for people with a disability, such as when or how to divulge a disability.
As part of its educational focus, Incight offers scholarships to youth who are disabled and college-bound. May stressed that having a disability isn’t what qualifies a scholar for the award – it’s the student’s awareness of his disability and what he’s done to move past it. Incight’s scholars attend webinars.
Scholarship applications go online in September and May hopes more desert donors will get involved to sponsor scholarships that will send local disabled youth to college. More local donors will mean Incight can offer scholarships to more Coachella Valley youth. It’s the community’s duty to support this community, May said.
“It’s time for us to find and support disabled kids in our community and recognize their value,” May said. “It takes a village to find these kids and it takes angels to support them and keep these kids connected.”
On July 22nd, Incight and United Cerebral Palsy of the Inland Empire will host an all-ages ice sledding event at Desert Ice Castle in Cathedral City. Sleds will allow disabled kids to enjoy the ice, and coaches will assist with sled hockey. May said everyone is welcome to enjoy the fun.
May said she is also actively looking for volunteers to help with all aspects of the organization. For more information on Incight and how you can get involved, visit www.incight.org or call (760) 674-2473.