UCLA groups have created an Internet resource for people with
|According to the latest U.S.
Census statistics released in 1997, nearly one out of every five Americans
has some level of disability.
Thirty-three million of those people list their disabilities as severe.
To provide assistance to some of these disabled individuals who wish
to lead an independent life, UCLA Advanced Policy Institute of the
School of Public Policy and Social Research and the Westside Center
for Independent Living have teamed up to create the Living Independently
in Los Angeles project, a new online resource for people with disabilities.
Alan Toy, project director of the UCLA Advanced Policy
Institute, works on his computer while looking at the Living
Independently in Los Angeles Web site.
BRIDGET O'BRIEN/Daily Bruin Senior Staff
"This project takes the independent living information and referral
concepts into the 21st century," said Alan Toy, project director at
the Advanced Policy Institute. "With the use of this technology, we
hope to bridge the technological barriers many disabled persons face,
while making the concept of independent living a reality."
Launched in March of 2001, the LILA information system provides a
central informational resource for a wide range of disabilities.
Over the next three years, LILA will receive a total of $1.5 million
to build its infrastructure, including funds from the Community Technology
Foundation of California, Microsoft Corporation and the GTE Foundation.
According to Toy, the City of Los Angeles has also approved a line
item for the LILA project in the upcoming budget to be approved through
the Department on Disability.
This collaboration of academic, private and public institutions looks
to promote accessibility and a sense of community for those living
"These services are very much in demand, but it's an overwhelming
task for those who need them to wade through all the agencies and
programs involved," said Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles County
Supervisor, in a statement. "Quick and easy online access will
empower people with disabilities to take full advantage of the assistance
available to them."
While most sites catering to people with disabilities often only provide
information to other links, the LILA Web site targets resources specifically
within the Los Angeles area.
A key feature of the site includes the geographic information system
which allows users to locate the nearest services and recreation sites
from its database.
The LILA project also calls for people with disabilities, their families
and advocates to actively participate in creating the data or assets
for the site.
For example, users who may know of a wheelchair repair shop in a particular
area in the city may add this information by using an "add"
template feature found on the Web site. The information is then checked
for accuracy and entered into the mapping program.
Toy, who also uses a wheelchair because of having developed polio
as a child, said he hoped LILA will bring together people with disabilities
through its peer-driven concept.
"I'm really hopeful the use of this technology will move that
philosophy of independent living a lot faster and deeper in terms
of its potential for advocacy and for creating a community,"
Toy said. "This technology will allow us to become more effective
in advocacy efforts in terms of getting news out and coalescing as
a community around issues, events and activities."
For first-year social work graduate student Melanie Benn, the LILA
site has been an invaluable source.
Despite an attack of bacterial meningiococal meningitis at age 18
that left her a quadrilateral amputee, Benn continues to participate
in sports such as swimming. LILA features sports and recreation links
have helped Benn continue her active lifestyle.
A San Diego native new to the Los Angeles area, Benn has also used
LILA to gather housing information.
"Every student knows how challenging school can be, but a student
with a disability, the challenges are tenfold," Benn said. "It's
very reassuring that you have a network of support. The university
supporting sites like this closes the gap between what's out there
for a student with a disability and how they can access this."
According to John Whitbread, project manager of LILA for the Westside
Center for Independent Living, about 600 users have logged onto the
site since its launch.
Although the site specifically targets resources in the Los Angeles
area, the special features have attracted Web surfers throughout the
country, he said.
At UCLA, coordinators hope to use LILA as a model for other projects
and will attend conferences throughout the country to present their
findings and help bridge the technological gap for those with living
"The whole concept when we created this site was that if you
can do this in L.A., you can probably do it everywhere," Toy
The LILA project serves as an extension of UCLA's commitment to bring
accessibility to students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community.
Voted one of the most disabled-friendly campuses in the nation, UCLA's
rich history in providing this environment stems from the 1940s and
'50s with the influx of paraplegic veterans who began to attend the
university, according to Doug Martin, special assistant to the chancellor.
Martin, a UCLA alumnus who uses a wheelchair because of polio, decided
to attend UCLA for its favorable climate and services offered for
students with disabilities.
"A wheelchair user was not an oddity on campus, but in many other
universities they really didn't know what to do with wheelchair users
because they couldn't get in and out of buildings, and the climate
was pretty harsh," Martin said.
Now serving as the special assistant to the chancellor and coordinator
for the Chancellor's Americans with Disabilities Act and 504 Compliance
Office, Martin plays an important role in the planning of wheelchair
pathways, renovating original campus buildings and the design of new
buildings to create disabled access.
Other tools, including UCLA's Disabilities and Computing Program,
which provide services such as screen-reading programs and special
adaptive software, continue to open doors for disabled students.
As for the greater Los Angeles area, LILA plans to include data from
the city that will provide detailed maps of curb cuts and accessible
pathways in buildings as well as the nearest bus stops within the
next few years, according to Whitbread.
Other assets the LILA site provides include a public forum where users
can virtually chat and share information. Recent news concerning the
disabled is regularly posted and updated on the site.
But online programs like LILA do have their challenges. Particularly,
program coordinators are concerned about how to reach disabled people
who don't have access to computers.
According to the Americans with Disabilities: 1997, a study done by
the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate among 24- to 64-year-olds
with minor disabilities is 10 percent, while the rate is 28 percent
for those with severe disabilities.
Many of these individuals may not own a computer or have access to
the Internet, Whitbread said.
But a recent proposal drafted by LILA's coordinators for a California
endowment, may partially provide funds for more computers for Independent
Despite the drawbacks, innovative technology programs such as LILA
seek to not only extend services to assist the disability community,
but also provide an outlet where people with disabilities voice their
"It's a brave new world of technology," Toy said. "There's
a lot of opportunity to create new things and we think that we've
created something that's useful and interesting.
Hernandez (Daily Bruin Reporter)