SAIL helps Juneau seniors with physical disabilities

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Senior citizens who have been independent and active all their lives face a difficult time of transition when they lose their hearing, vision or freedom of movement due to arthritis. Feelings of isolation or embarrassment may lead these people toward seclusion from others. But there's a better, safer, healthier and happier way to manage such losses.

Southeast Alaska Independent Living, or SAIL, is committed to helping people live active, involved and productive lives in spite of their physical limitations. "We make people aware of their possibilities instead of what they can't do," said Cheryl Hull, Assistant Director of SAIL. "At SAIL, we learn how to live with our disabilities."

SAIL offers Independent Living Skills training, such as how to use a cane, how to use eating utensils designed for hands that can't move like they used to, how to use public transportation or how to cook with limited vision. Personalized one-to-one training is provided either at the SAIL office on Hospital Drive or in the comfort of one's own home. Such training provides the confidence to move back out into the world.

SAIL freely loans out equipment and gadgets, whether it be safety can openers, walkers or magnifiers. They also have catalogs of items that may be ordered to make life easier for persons with vision loss, hearing loss or limited movement. Staff members work with folds on an individual basis to teach them how to use the items.

They educate people and their family members about what's available, how to obtain services, and can help arrange community supports. "We show them choices, then let people decide for themselves what's best," said Hull. "There are a growing number of options available in our community. People with disabilities can maintain in their own home with community supports and we can help them do that." She emphasizes the importance of people making their own choices rather than someone else (such as a family member) making it for them. SAIL advocates for the rights of individuals and actually teaches people how to speak up for themselves.

In addition to support from the staff at SAIL, peer support is also available. This often involves matching persons with similar disabilities together to help make the transition easier. Support can take the form of a one-on-one peer "mentor" or getting together with others in a group. For example, the Low Vision Support Group meets the third Friday of the month at 1 p.m. at the Juneau Senior Center.

Fun and outdoor recreation are available through ORCA, SAIL's recreation component. ORCA program director Sierra Kaden organizes special trips to Glacier Bay, Haines and Sitka for seniors with limited vision. Sierra coordinates outings with the Mountain View Apartments, the Pioneers' Home and Wildflower Court so that seniors with disabilities can enjoy picnics, gardening, plays, trips to the symphony and wildlife cruises. In addition to the enjoyment factor, the recreation program builds self-confidence in persons who have just recently come to experience physical limitations.

The staff at SAIL invites persons with disabilities of any age to call them at 586-4920 for more information. SAIL offers a caring and supportive environment in which to explore options, make informed decisions and achieve self-control over one's life.

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