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Life a little easier for disabled at South Lake Tahoe

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Lori Cimprano moved to the South Shore in 1998 from Connecticut. A year

later, she was in a car crash that broke her back in two places.

“If the community hadn’t rallied around me, I couldn’t have stayed here,”

Cimprano said.

Cimprano attends classes at Lake Tahoe Community College with her service

dog, Tucker.

The South Shore has made progress with accommodating those with disabilities

in recent years. For example, last month Sky Forest Acres ‹ a low-income

housing complex for people with disabilities ‹ officially opened.

“We had 18 units and received 200 applications,” said David Kelly, president

of the Tahoe Area Coordinating Council for the Disabled. “It’s a good start

but it’s just a dent. We need to keep chipping away at the dent.”

The Disability Resource Center creates a “level playing field” for students

with documented disabilities, said Bob Albrecht, LTCC Disability Resource

Center director.

“We empower students so they can be advocates for themselves,” Albrecht

said.

Cimprano said she’s been taking classes at LTCC for seven years. She’s

enrolled in the personal trainer program, and wants to take the wilderness

education course next. Previously, Cimprano worked at Barton Memorial

Hospital as a lab clerk for eight months after taking the college’s

phlebotomy course. She then worked in the admitting department.

Before college classes began, Cimprano said she contacted the DRC and

requested a desk that would allow her to comfortably position herself at the

desk in her wheelchair. Other desks in classrooms are usually too small for

her. By the second week of classes, the desk was there, Cimprano said.

At the college gym, Cimprano works out with the hand cycle, and she’s asked

for more cardiovascular equipment to be added. The college also provides a

student to help Cimprano get on and off the equipment.

Although the South Shore has witnessed improvements regarding services for

the disabled, challenges still exist. One issue that resonates with all

residents around town is the sidewalks. Sidewalks ” where they exist ” are

difficult to get around on, especially in the winter time, Cimprano said.

Longtime South Shore resident Bob Moran agrees. He said during the past 19

years he’s broken 10 wheelchair frames because of the curb cuts between Al

Tahoe Boulevard and the “Y.”

Moran opts to use the road instead of the sidewalk for a number of reasons:

It’s faster for him to go where he needs to, and the roads are plowed. The

sidewalks aren’t always clear.

The casino corridor has great access, but down by the “Y” there’s still a

lot of work to be done, Moran said.

Another helpful addition to Cimprano’s life is Tucker.

After Cimprano’s accident, she decided she wanted a service dog. Because she

had dogs much of her life, she found a training book written by a

wheelchair-bound author, picked out a Staffordshire Terrier Labrador mix and

trained the dog herself.

Now eight years later, Tucker helps Cimprano flip light switches on and off,

carries textbooks and assists her into her wheelchair if she falls out.

“At home, he’s a regular dog, but when he’s (at the college), he’s at work,”

Cimprano said.

Cimprano said she sometimes has trouble bringing Tucker into restaurants.

She carries a pamphlet with service dog laws written in eight different

languages. She said many people think only the blind have service dogs, so

she carries the pamphlet with her to explain the situation.

Out of the 200 students who use the Disability Resource Center, about half

of them have a learning disability and not a physical disability, said Bob

Albrecht, Disability Resource Center director.

The DRC opened in 1988. Since then, technology has advanced so the center

can accommodate students with all different types of media to help them

learn.

Besides offering tutors and counseling, the center also has gadgets that can

help students, Albrecht said.

For example, the center has a Kurzeil reader that can scan almost any text

and reads it back to the student, said Ken Blach, alternate media specialist

at the DRC.

Albrecht said some students learn better through listening.

“Listening to pre-recorded textbooks is a thing of the past,” Albrecht said.

Another tool students can utilize is the Dragon Dictate, which allows

students to dictate to the computer to type their essays.

Other programs allow students to highlight book passages in different colors

if they learn better by using color recognition, Albrecht said.

By teaching students how to use these programs and gadgets, they become

independent and begin to become their own advocates. These are tools that

help students conquer learning challenges and bolster confidence, Albrecht

said.

October was Disability Awareness Month, Albrecht said.

For information, call the center at (530) 541-4660, ext. 384.

” Sara Thompson