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Northern Nevada has a variety of services available to people with disabilities. The Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities advocates and works at system changes and building activities for people with disabilities throughout the state. The Nevada Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation offers services in vocational rehabilitation. Path to Independence offers college classes on campus to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Care Chest of Sierra Nevada provides critical healthcare resources for Nevadans in need. Note-Able Music Therapy Services brings people of all abilities together through music. N4 (Neighbor Network of Northern Nevada) connects people through time exchanges, social activities and volunteer work.

NNCIL brings all these groups (and more) together in service of people with any type of disability. “We connect people with services,” says Executive Director Lisa Bonie. “Someone comes in and talks to us, and, say, they have a housing issue. We can assess what other issues might also come up and tell them all that is available to them, be that state agencies or private organizations. This is the first stop they make on the journey to independence.”

An important part of that journey is listening to people so they can achieve the level of independence they want. Not what anyone else wants or thinks they need. Bonie says, “Sadly, there is a certain segment of the population where their desires and goals aren’t valued in the decision-making process.” But she and her staff are trying to change that. “We like to start with really basic self-advocacy. Sometimes, that just means sitting with them while they make phone calls. Just knowing there is someone there who can prompt you if you lose your train of thought, etc. When you own the process, you own the outcomes more.”

Independent Living is one of the three legs to the stool, according to Scott Harrington, Ph.D., BCBA-D, a licensed behavior analyst. The two others are integrated employment (i.e., earning at least minimum wage) and inclusive social/recreational activities. People with disabilities need to be living, working and playing in our community. Harrington points out what should be obvious: “Persons with disabilities want what everyone else wants: to be included, loved, and engaged in something meaningful, whether it is volunteerism, work, or participating in the community.”

Dora Ulchel, 40, works two-part time jobs: As a student worker at the Nevada Assistive Technology Resource Center (NATRC), and as an assistive technology trainer for Perkins School for the Blind. She will graduate in May 2017 with a Bachelor of Social Work degree and will then pursue a master’s degree.

“It’s important to everyone to have a sense of belonging. We as humans are supposedly the smart mammal so let’s do the smart thing and care for each other,” she says. “I am a native Palauan. Growing up in a developing country, no one knew anything about Braille or screen readers, so I relied heavily on family members to read to me. My challenges have become part of my daily life and they have taught me to fight for what is right and to create a better life for everyone regardless of ability.”

Kelleen Preston, rehabilitation supervisor at DETR, who has a physical disability herself, shares, “This is probably the hardest part of living with a disability – people’s perception and the issues they face. I do believe the misunderstandings are getting better as people with disabilities are in included in the community – the community sees the disabled community as they see themselves – striving for the same quality of life as anyone else. The more inclusion, the more the biases are defunct.”