Independent Life Center Executive Director Evelyn Tileston talks Tuesday at the center about the upcoming Disability Awareness Week. The event continues throughout the week, and Friday has been proclaimed Northwest Colorado Disability Awareness Day.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Independent Life Center Executive Director Evelyn Tileston talks Tuesday at the center about the upcoming Disability Awareness Week. The event continues throughout the week, and Friday has been proclaimed Northwest Colorado Disability Awareness Day.

Understanding disabilities

Friday is 1st Northwest Colorado Disability Awareness Day

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Disability Awareness Week

Evelyn Tileston, Independent Life Center executive director, talks about Disability Awareness Week and the upcoming Disability Awareness Day that will take place Friday. The event is a joint venture in association between Craig and Steamboat Springs.

Evelyn Tileston, Independent Life Center executive director, talks about Disability Awareness Week and the upcoming Disability Awareness Day that will take place Friday. The event is a joint venture in association between Craig and Steamboat Springs.

Evelyn Tileston's office looks like any other workspace. She has a desk with a computer and pictures of her family on a shelf.

The difference is, Tileston can't see the pictures of her family.

"It's nice to have them there anyway," she said.

Tileston, who is blind, is the executive director for the Independent Life Center, 483 Yampa Ave., where half of the employees and board members also have disabilities.

The center, certified as one of 10 centers for independent living in the state, is a supporter of Northwest Colorado Disability Awareness Day, which takes place Friday.

The state originally signed a proclamation declaring this week the first Disability History Week, however Tileston said the event should be more about awareness and understanding.

The Moffat and Routt county commissions, along with Hayden, Craig and Steamboat Springs city councils, have signed proclamations declaring this week the first Disability Awareness Week and Friday as Disability Awareness Day.

"This was the first time the state has really acknowledged that people with disabilities need to be noticed," she said. "We decided to have an event that would show support for the efforts of the disabled, so the community could become more aware of that population."

Those who have purchased T-shirts for Disability Awareness Day can wear them around the community Friday to receive discounts at local businesses such as McDonald's, the Village Inn and Kum & Go.

Everyone in the community also is encouraged to "adopt" a disability for an hour or more to gain a better understanding of what it's like to be disabled.

Tileston recommended eliminating the use of one hand, blindfolding yourself or wearing heavy gloves.

However, it's important to use common sense and not put yourself or anyone else in danger while you are being disabled.

"We want people to be able to do this in the privacy of their homes, or even in public if they so choose" she said. "It can be a very scary thing to be deaf or blind for a day if you don't have a disability."

Tileston works with people with disabilities every day at the Independent Living Center. The center is a nonprofit organization, community-based program funded by the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

There are 10 independent living centers in Colorado, all of which cater to any kind of person with any kind of disability. They all are required to have board members and employees with disabilities.

"A lot of people who come in here don't have money for things like food," Tileston said. "We teach them what resources there are in the community and give them the tools to get them out of whatever mess they're in."

The building has a computer lab with special software that people with disabilities might need. They provide counseling and access to the computer lab free of charge.

Tileston is grateful to have the support of the state and the community for pulling the event together.

She said she hopes the event will be even larger next year and that everyone in the community will get involved in some way, whether they blindfold themselves or engage in a conversation about people with disabilities.

"Just go up and talk to people with shirts on," she said. "Talk to them about disability issues. It's OK to ask questions. You don't need to be uncomfortable to talk to people about blindness, deafness or mobility issues. This is a time when everyone should be having conversations and be planning for the future."

Nicole Inglis can be reached at 875-1793, or ninglis@craigdailypress.com.

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