Smoothing the Way : Disabled: Services coordinator Camille Jones makes sure that an estimated 8,000 residents of the city have as little trouble as possible going about their lives. For her, it’s the perfect job.
Eighteen years ago, Camille Jones began taking a fertility drug to better her chances of bearing a child. Three days later, her ears plugged up, and soon she went completely deaf.
Although she struggled at first, Jones says that becoming deaf turned out to be as much of a blessing as the birth of her healthy baby daughter nine months later.
“It enabled me to recognize strengths that I really didn’t know I had,” she said. “I had to make decisions about what I really wanted to do. . . . It gave my life more focus.”
That focus prompted Jones to take on the job of coordinator of disability services in Culver City. Jones, who makes $33,400 a year, says she has found the perfect job, and the people she helps say that in Jones they have found a champion that has
been on both sides of the track.
For the last three years, Jones has had the overall responsibility of seeing that people with disabilities in Culver City have as little trouble as possible going about their lives.
She makes sure that simple but important conveniences are installed: curb cuts, ramps, handicapped restrooms and parking, lowered drinking fountains and picnic tables that can accommodate wheelchairs.
She also makes referrals to support groups and a variety of agencies that serve disabled people. The city has a van service with a wheelchair lift and a sign-language interpreter.
Some of the calls she gets are complaints about grocery stores that lock the gates where carts go through. Federal law requires the gates be left unlocked, so people with disabilities can use them and avoid trying to squeeze through turnstiles. Jones sees to it that the offense is corrected.
Another caller once complained that he could not maneuver his wheelchair around a pile of dirt left on the sidewalk near an empty lot. Jones tracked down the owner of the lot, and when he would not comply, Jones had the city remove the dirt and send the owner a bill.
Jones, 45, helps make Culver City a good place for people with disabilities to live, according to Martha Alfaro, one of Jones’ clients.
Alfaro, who has used a wheelchair since contracting polio in childhood, moved to Culver City five years ago because of its reputation for strong programs for people with disabilities.
She made many friends through these programs. But she had a problem getting transportation to Loyola Marymount University, where she is a senior studying toward a career in art therapy. Culver City bus drivers picked her up regularly, but Los Angeles RTD bus drivers often passed her by or said their wheelchair lifts were broken.
“Getting around in Culver City is great,” Alfaro said. “Everybody knows us. The problem is, we can’t go further from here.”
Thanks to Jones, Alfaro found a taxi service that she now uses regularly.
“Every time I have a problem,” Alfaro said, “I run to her. She’s been a role model for me.”
Jones said people with disabilities lead full lives and do not like to be referred to as victims of some accident or disease.
“ Victim is a tragic sounding word,” she said. “Most people with disabilities will tell you their lives are not a tragedy.”
The term wheelchair-bound is also irritating, she added, evoking a caricature of a mummy wound together with the wheelchair. “The person should come first.”
Jones works with about 60 people a month, mostly by phone, out of her small, wood-paneled office in the Culver City senior center. Disability services is a program of the Community and Social Services Division of the Human Services Department.
Jones estimates that 8,000 Culver City residents, or about 20% of the population, have some form of disability. About half that number have a hearing loss and about a third have a mobility impairment due to a spinal cord injury or disease, such as cerebral palsy or polio. The remaining tenth have impaired vision.
Jones has several projects under way. She recently got audible cross-walk signals installed at three major intersections along Sepulveda Boulevard and is trying to get more. When it’s safe to cross north-south, the signal sends out a chirping sound. When it’s safe to cross east-west, a different sound--"cuckoo"--is played.
She’s working on producing a tape for elementary school students to learn about people with disabilities.
“The more people know, the more comfortable they will be,” she said. “It’s what you don’t know that scares you. Kids are not scared, but they’re taught by their parents. They say ‘Don’t look,’ and ‘Don’t ask questions.’ ”
Next month, the City Council will consider a $40,000 project to offer computer courses for people with disabilities.
If approved, the adult school classes will be funded by Community Development Block Grant money. People with disabilities will learn accounting, spreadsheet and word processing programs using specially equipped computers.
The equipment takes advantage of the latest in speech recognition technology. The computer will learn a person’s speech patterns, and turn the sounds into words on the computer screen. Conversely, a person will be able to place a book on a scanner, and the computer will read the text out loud.
Program costs include Braille printers and training for staff.
The project is a joint effort by several Culver City agencies. It is especially timely, said Jones, with the January, 1992, enactment of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Jones said.
The act was signed by President Bush in July, 1990, and is intended to encourage businesses to hire people with disabilities.
With programs like this, “businesses will find a virtually untapped resource of workers in the general population,” Jones said.
Audiologists cannot pinpoint what caused Jones to lose her hearing, but they believe the fertility drug reacted with other drugs the doctor had already prescribed.
But Jones said her happy, full life would not have been possible without the loss of her hearing.
She even sees something positive in the breakup of her marriage. Her husband, unable to deal with her deafness, left the marriage three years after she lost her hearing.
“To stay with him would have been a life of low self-esteem and meekness,” she said. “When he left, I was able to turn my life around.”
It was at that time that she returned to school at Cal State Northridge to get her degree in programs for people with disabilities.
Jones lives in Culver City with her two daughters and a hearing-dog that alerts her when the phone or doorbell rings.
A year ago, she had a cochlear implant, which simulates sound with vibrating electrodes controlled by a sound processor. She is now learning to hear again, and can distinguish sounds of life: laughter and crying.
But the surgery was undertaken at the urging of her daughters, especially the second child, who confessed she has always felt partially responsible for the problem.
“I’m the only person I know that didn’t want the implant,” Jones said. “I like the side I’m on. It’s a different world. People with disabilities are unselfish, caring, unmaterialistic. More involved with people. And I like that side of life.”