Ability360 is a program that strives to provide resources and community to people with disabilities across Arizona. The organization refers to itself as a center for independent living.
Ability360 is housed on East Washington Street in Phoenix and includes an accessible gymnasium that hosts several professional disability sports teams and an office building where people with disabilities can find programs to help improve their lives in several different areas.
The building houses advocacy resources that offer education on how to receive accommodation, including housing, transportation, healthcare, and accessibility.
This can be valuable for people who were not born with their disabilities, but acquired them later in life, usually due to illness or injury. These folks will have to navigate life in a way that they did not before. Ability360 serves as a mentor for these people.
Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association is an example of a program that serves people who have acquired disabilities. Spinal cord injuries can cause paralysis, sometimes from the neck down, limiting use of the arms and hands.
Allison Harris, the public relations specialist with the AZ Spinal, said that when someone gets a spinal cord injury, they must relearn how to do everything with their new disability.
“We provide educational classes and resources for people who are newly injured,” Harris said. “It completely changes their lives. In the beginning, it is difficult, but once they get into the swing of things, they are just like anyone else.”
For these people, the resources provided by Ability360, and AZ Spinal are essential to continuing to live a fulfilling life.
Ability360 originally called the Arizona Congress for Action, began as an organization to bring awareness to disability in the state in 1977, according to its website. This formation came shortly after the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive money from the federal government.
In 1978, congress enacted the Independent Living Legislation as part of the Rehab Act. This would require states to provide independent living services to their residents. It would also give funding to the states to build resource centers for people with disabilities. Ability360 received funding and began serving the community in 1981.
April Reed, the Vice President of Advocacy at Ability360 described the organization as a “one-stop-shop” for people with disabilities to get information on the resources available to them. She also described the organization as a community center for people with disabilities.
Ability360 is a 501(c)(3) organization, meaning it is a nonprofit organization, according to the IRS. One thing that makes Ability360 unique is the fact that it is mostly run by people with disabilities. Many people in the disability community believe that people with disabilities are the biggest experts on disabilities.
According to Reed, when congress added Independent Living Legislation, they stated that 51% of the staff and management must be people with disabilities. They wanted the programs to be run “by people with disabilities for people with disabilities.”
This also serves to help people with disabilities find careers, which is often difficult. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17.9% of people with disabilities were unemployed in 2020. This is a substantial number compared to the 7.9% unemployment rate of people with no disabilities.
It also helps people with disabilities become more involved in their community. This can help combat isolation. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, people with disabilities experience higher rates of social isolation and loneliness than people who are not disabled.
According to the CDC, social isolation is linked to serious health conditions including heart disease, stroke, and mental health conditions. The CDC compared health risks social isolation to smoking.
The Ability360 Center strives to prevent isolation. They provide classes and programs for people with disabilities. When people go to these programs, they often end up finding a place to call home.
“Oftentimes people will tell us ‘I came for a class but ended up having a community and a sense of family,’” Reed said, “‘I ended up having a place where I belonged, because of people understanding my disability from that personal perspective.’ I think that’s really unique.”