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Disabled Duo Giving Peers Freedom
A Hialeah husband and wife created an organization to help people with disabilities live more independently.
BY JENNIFER MOONEY PIEDRA
February 15, 2004
Pedro Rodriguez remembers little about the car accident 25 years ago that left him using a wheelchair, but he does remember telling himself that it wasn't the end of the world.
He knew his life would change in more ways than one.
Days of working as a civil engineer in Puerto Rico were replaced with rehabilitation sessions and visits to doctors. Simply getting from place to place became an ordeal.
But one day while he was receiving treatment at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Rodriguez realized there were many people facing the same challenges.
''I saw a lot of people in wheelchairs coming to the hospital who didn't have insurance; they had no care, no access to their homes, couldn't get into bathrooms because the doors were too narrow,'' Rodriguez, 52, said.
"I knew I had to do something.''
In 1985, he and his wife, Angelina, who also uses a wheelchair because of systemic lupus, created the Spinal Cord Living-Assistance Development to help people with disabilities become independent and self-sufficient.
The Hialeah-based organization, which is known as SCLAD, offers many services to its clients: from supplying special medical equipment to coordinating transportation to job placement and home visits.
It even helps people find places to live.
Seven years ago, SCLAD opened Park Place, 250 E. Second Ave., a 34-unit apartment building, which provides accessibility to people with disabilities. Just blocks from the organization's office, the complex, which cost $3.2 million to build and was paid for with money from the state, has a waiting list of 150 names, Angelina Rodriguez said.
The success of that project pushed the couple to pursue building another housing facility -- this one for first-time, low-income home buyers.
''Our goal is to help people with disabilities live more independently -- especially people in wheelchairs,'' Angelina Rodriguez said. ``People with disabilities do not want to be isolated.''
The new building -- East Side Condominiums -- has a handful of its 24 units available, but most are in the process of being sold. Residents will move by March.
The Rodriguezes say they are certain the residents will be happy -- not only with the features but with the location.
Park Place and East Side Condominiums are both located in Hialeah's ''downtown'' district, with banks, pharmacies, grocery stores, a post office, schools, City Hall and churches just blocks away.
The buildings also offer features that Pedro Rodriguez said are hard to come by.
To accommodate people in wheelchairs, doorways are wider, air conditioner controls are placed lower on the walls, showers are built with ramps, and kitchens are equipped appliances that can be used by someone who is sitting.
''The idea is to have something that looks like any other dwelling,'' Pedro Rodriguez said. ``But we try to make it even prettier.''
MORE THAN AMENITIES
The features of the buildings are important factors to their success, but some residents say the SCLAD facilities offer something even greater.
''I got the confidence and I have my independence because I can do things on my own,'' said Park Place resident Juan Luis Alvarez, 13.
Juan Luis, a student at Lincoln Martí School in Hialeah, suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, which causes his bones to break easily. He has used a wheelchair for more than three years.
Juan Luis said his life is better since his family moved to Park Place about a year ago.
''I feel great living here because I can fix myself breakfast, take a shower and brush my teeth without any help,'' Juan Luis said. ``I couldn't do that before in our other place.''
His mother, Liliana Alvarez, said the apartment is a blessing for her family. Rooms are bigger, bathrooms more spacious and the $593 a month rent is affordable, she said.
And, most of all, her son knows he is not alone. Others in wheelchairs are coming and going, she said, which helps Juan Luis see that, he, too, can live independently.