When the Center for Independent Living (CIL) moved into the Ed Roberts Campus several years ago the building at 2539 Telegraph Avenue was temporarily abandoned. But since the beginning of this year it has been coming back to life. The front along the street has offices of various non profit organizations and the vast space in the rest of the building is reconstituted as THE SHOP at CIL. It contains facilities for wheelchair and scooter repair and a program for recycling every kind of assistive technology. It promises to provide convenient, accessible services and equipment for people with disabilities. They celebrated its official grand opening this month with Mayor Bates cutting the blue ribbon.
When we met with Laurie Shay, business manager of the SHOP, she described the operation. There are actually two program parts. For wheelchair and scooter repair they are partnered with Wheelchairs of San Mateo, a well established business respected by many wheelchair users. This is useful, she explains, because they have the business infra- structure and the ability to bill MediCare and other insurance which is important for the clients. Asked if they can do house calls, Lauri explains; “Most people come here and we are working on how to provide services for minor needs. Most services are major repairs. If somebody just needs something minor we are working to get a whole group of volunteer workers who can help out with that or, the other thought is that we're going to have workshops here and people from the community can be trained to do those minor repairs.”
The other, a very exciting and important program run by the SHOP is the repair, reuse and recycling of assistive technology (AT). Lauri defines AT as “a piece of equipment or device that would help a person with a disability do something that they wouldn't be able to do otherwise without that piece of technology or it would be really difficult for them to do.” The SHOP solicits donations of items that people are no longer using but might still have life in them. It could be a cane, crutches, a walker, a shower chair, a screen reader, assisted listening device. “We take donations of durable medical equipment such as hospital beds, commodes and things like that. Once they come in we evaluate them whether they are fit to be given out again or they need to be repaired. Some things we can repair some we can't. Or if they need to be sanitized we have what's called a hub scrub ...” (This is a machine that looks something like a small car wash). “Once we get the donations in we will be giving them out free or low cost depending on the item”, Laurie says, “and we can also loan out an item to someone who might have only temporary need for it.” There is a room filled with smaller, simple AT items for daily living - canes, grab bars, alarm clocks, vibrator clocks, pill organizer for people with memory issues, large timers, magnifiers, jar grippers that are free or very inexpensive.
The SHOP is part of an AT network and exchange that maintains a website for members to post equipment that they have available. There are 13 locations in California that are part of the AT exchange network. Joe Escalante is AT specialist at Silicon Valley Independent Living Center which is part of the network. He explains “ As such we're tied in with each others ability to loan out devices and donate devices that's been donated to us.” He was at the SHOP last week with Frances Merrill who is a wheelchair user and works at SVILC. “I know Frances,” he said. “I went on the Exchange and I know she's been using her power chair for many years and it's kind of on the fritz every now and then, comes and goes. And with her insurance issues they're unwilling to purchase a new one until he current chair absolutely goes. With the AT exchange I was able to find a wheelchair that we hope suitable for her and lucky for us is close by. … she'll be able to get a chair at a very reasonable price that she would not be able to afford otherwise.” Frances was pleased. “I'm not able to purchase another chair for many years – so this really helps me out.” And she was happy to find our about the repair and recycling. “Normally what I've done with my old chairs in the past is either donate it if they'll take it or take it apart and recycle it as scrap.” The SHOP has put a couple of dozen items on the website and a number of them have been taken. They are always looking for donations. When they get an item Laurie explains, “We have to evaluate it, see if it's in working order, then we take a picture of it and post it on the web.”
Peni Hall, an artist, a disability activist and wheelchair user was at the SHOP opening on Friday. She was enthusiastic. “I think it's the most exciting thing that has happened in Berkeley in a long time.” When CIL moved into the Ed Roberts Campus several years ago it left a gap in the wheelchair repair business. “Everybody in the community wanted a wheelchair repair store,” Peni said, “and this is going to be a wonderful asset for the community.” Also the AT part of the SHOP - repair, reuse, recycle, supplements the programs at the Ed Roberts Campus by making it easy for people with disabilities to obtain all sorts of assistive devices directly. And the SHOP always welcomes donations.
Finally, the offices of the non-profits and the community room in the front part of the building provide a space for people of like minds and interests to gather. Currently there are the Grey Panthers, the United Nations Association and the Ecumenical Peace Institute. There is space for several more.