This story comes courtesy of Christina Clift, with Memphis Center for Independent Living. Names and images are changed to protect privacy.
In the early 1990s, Robert was living in Las Vegas with a family, job, money in the bank, and a home that he owned. That all changed late one evening while driving home – Robert fell asleep at the wheel and his car flew off a cliff side. The crash put him in a coma for more than two weeks and he suffered a severe spinal cord injury.
When he regained consciousness, he learned he would not be able to walk again. The extent of his injuries also meant he would struggle to do many things that came so easily before.
He attended physical rehabilitation sessions for months. In the beginning his family and friends were supportive, but as time marched on their support began to wane. Eventually, he was left to deal with his physical challenges on his own.
“After I finished with the physical rehab, my brother talked me into moving to Memphis,” he said. “He offered to help me out. But when the money from my settlement ran out, so did his support.”
Robert felt he was at the end of his rope and soon after he turned to alcohol and drugs for consolation. He was depressed and attempted suicide more than once. He ended up in a hospital and from there he went to a full-time care nursing facility. Conditions and treatment at the nursing care facility were very poor, but it took some time for Robert to understand that his civil rights were not being protected.
“When Robert came out of his depression and became aware of what his nursing care facility was like, he knew wanted out of there,” said an agency counselor familiar with the case.
Robert contacted the Memphis Center for Independent Living, one of United Way’s network of nonprofit partners, for help and counseling.
“By this time, Robert was on the road to being an advocate for himself,” the agency counselor said. “He hated the environment where he lived. He also disliked the way the staff there were treating him.”
Robert says the nursing care staff treated him like a “second-class citizen” and told him that “he should be grateful just to be there.” Working with the agency’s counselors, he began making plans for his move and his future. He began volunteering at the agency while searching for a home of his own.
“He volunteered every day, sometimes working six hours a day,” the agency counselor noted. “He also started to speak up for his rights and help others where he was living.”
Robert and his counselors fought a long nine-month battle with red tape over past due bills related to his accident, finding affordable housing and dealing with bureaucracy’s varying “definitions” of disability, but eventually he was able to leave the nursing care facility and move into his own apartment.
“Now that he won that battle and is living in his own home, Robert is working towards other goals, including getting into school and becoming an advocate to help other people who have disabilities,” the agency counselor said.
Robert knows the value of his independence, and has a healthy attitude about his future.
“I didn’t want to give up, and I didn’t want to disappoint all those people who helped me,” he said. “Now I am free and no one can treat me like a second class citizen.”
Thanks to your support of United Way, Robert was able to turn his tragedy around and enjoy greater self-reliance. Your generosity gives Robert and other people with disabilities an important voice to protect personal rights and work for greater independence.