Our country is made up of 50 individual states. Our culture values individualism and personal sovereignty. Part of the American Dream is making it on your own, or “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps,” as some rugged Americans would say. And Americans with physical and mental limitations share in that dream of independence and success.
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became the avenue through which all people could have access to the American Dream. Government buildings were equipped with wheelchair ramps and elevators. Builders widened doorways and opened the floor plans of homes. Technologists designed phone systems for the hearing impaired. Today, even our computers can talk to us if we are visually impaired. In our state, we have an entire organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities to achieve the American Dream.
Living Independence For Everyone, known as LIFE of Mississippi, provides information and referral services to more than 600 individuals living with a disability. While the physical or mental challenges vary from one consumer to the next, LIFE has made it their business to know where to send people for the help they need so they can live independent and productive lives. A typical day in their small suite of offices in Biloxi is full of phone calls. “Maybe someone can’t afford the rent where they are,” explained Bobbie Singletary, and Independent Living Specialist at LIFE. “So, we’ll help them find something more affordable,” she said. LIFE of MS has collaborated with several agencies and companies that cater to people with disabilities, making their office a one-stop shop for those who call. Whether you need a wheelchair, a personal care attendant, some home or car modifications, or a service animal, the savvy team at LIFE has done their homework and knows just where to refer you. They also provide emotional support when the job ahead of you seems too big to tackle. LIFE refers consumers to Disability Rights of Mississippi, an advocacy agency that protects the legal and human rights of all individuals with disabilities. “We want them be self-advocates,” Bobbie said, and she knows from personal experience how important that is.
Bobbie and her daughter, Cindy, who also works at LIFE, were born with a condition called Achondroplasia Dwarfism. Bobbie’s challenges through her own life derived from her very short stature, making it tough to live in a tall person’s world. Cindy developed other complications from the condition and she is mobilized by her powered wheelchair. She has gained much of her independence through working at LIFE, and her faithful service dog, Monte. Cindy started as an AmeriCorps volunteer right out of high school. “That was Monte’s first job too!” Bobbie said smiling. “Monte took Cindy across the stage to receive her high school diploma.” Today, Monte takes Cindy to college classes where she is studying law.
“Everyone who works at LIFE has some kind of disability,” Bobbie explained, “or they have a family member with a disability.” They draw from their own life experiences to help others achieve independence, as well staying informed and educated about ways to improve services to those who come to them for help and support. They have the support of several local businesses and nonprofits as well, including Grace Healthcare, Disability Connections, and the Coast Transit Authority. Bobbie sits on the CTA advisory board and she was instrumental in developing special services for people with disabilities. CTA can provide front door service for riders who need it. “Anyone can use the [CTA Paratransit],” Bobbie said. “They need a doctor’s or a LIFE representative to sign for [certification of disability].” To qualify, you must have a physical or mental impairment that makes it necessary for you to receive “curb-to-curb” transportation services in order for you to take care of your personal business.
LIFE of MS is funded by grants and individual gifts of support. Some of their current needs are janitorial supplies, volunteers to answer phone calls, and someone to help them build ramps, “and of course, monetary donations,” Bobbie said. LIFE also holds fundraising events throughout the year. And some events are just for fun. The ADA Celebration in March will be held at the Lion’s Club Park in Biloxi on Howard Avenue. “There will be gate prizes, lots of vendors, food and music,” Bobbie said. Everyone is invited to the festivities. “We are here to help,” she said in conclusion. Whatever your need, “we will definitely find a way to help.” You can reach them at 228-435-LIFE (5433). Offices are located at 2030 Pass Rd., Biloxi. And that’s what American LIFE is all about!