Disability Web site focuses on community

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Monday, December 13, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:10 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Putting a personal spin on areas of accessibility, as well as making available resources for disabled people in mid-Missouri, was Laura Schopp’s goal. She was instrumental in getting disAbility Spin Web site started.

With the community’s involvement, the site has the possibility of becoming an all-encompassing resource. DisAbility Spin is devoted to the disabled residents of Columbia who can visit and post their own experiences on the discussion forums within the site. There’s also a section for event listings. “People can constantly update the site. It really belongs to the community and it’s going to rely very heavily on the community’s interest to keep it vibrant,” said Schopp, a neuropsychologist and associate professor in the department of health psychology at MU.

Accessibility means different things to different people, Schopp said, citing restaurants as an example.

“You can go to the Web site and look up any restaurant in Columbia and enter your observations about it,” Schopp said. “(Let’s say) you like the fact that this restaurant has nice wide doorways, decent aisles to move around and even the bathrooms are OK, but there’s a 2-inch step and it’s just completely unnecessary.

“On disAbility Spin, you can communicate that to others in the community, but you can also communicate that to the proprietor,” she said.

A map and ratings system were also developed to help determine any barriers to entry and show any alternate accessible entrances. This system allows patrons to rate the accessibility on the basis of their needs, she said.

As the needs of the blind may be different than the needs of the deaf or wheelchair or walker users, this system allows for all types of pertinent information for each specific need.

When discussing accessible housing, Schopp said that information changes rapidly and disAbility Spin allows people to find updated news at the click of a button.

“DisAbility Spin is different from other Web sites because it goes in two directions,” she said. “Usually when we go to a Web site we get the information someone wants to share with us, but we don’t get to change the way the Web site looks. DisAbility Spin is built (to be) completely different so that if you don’t like it or if you think something is missing, you can post it yourself,” Schopp said.

Many of the patients seen in clinical services are left with little knowledge about the resources available to help them, Schopp said, which sparked the idea for disAbility Spin.

“People with disabilities have enormous information management challenges,” she said. “It’s especially difficult for people with a new disability or those who have just moved to the area to find that information quickly.”

Work on the Web site started in 2001 after a three-year research project was funded by a National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research grant. A steering committee of people with disabilities was formed to give opinions on what did and did not work, Schopp said.

“I got involved with the project because it is a good idea and fills a need for those with spinal cord injuries like myself,” said Antoinne Jones, a member of the steering committee.

“You know a lot of people with disabilities are just staying home without knowing what’s out there for them to get involved in, not achieving their full potential as a human being,” Jones said. “They need to know there’s more to life than feeling depressed or worrying about others staring. Hopefully disAbility Spin will show them that.”

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