COSTA MESA -- Chet Cooper is intent on building awareness of issues
facing people with disabilities, even if it takes a hammer to do it.
Cooper, publisher of ABILITY Magazine in Costa Mesa, has spearheaded a
movement along with Habitat for Humanity to build customized, low-income
housing across the nation for people with disabilities.
Volunteers broke ground this month in Washington, D.C., on the second
ABILITY house ever built in the nation. The homes are built by and for
people with disabilities. Cooper said he is eager to see the program
expand and possibly come to Costa Mesa.
"We're hoping to build hundreds of homes in the near future," Cooper
said. "Right now we're building homes and awareness."
Cooper, who has Attention Deficit Disorder and has family members with
disabilities, has spent the last 10 years publishing ABILITY magazine,
which focuses on issues of importance to people with disabilities. In a
casual conversation with Habitat founder Millard Fuller, Cooper pitched
his idea of building low-income housing for and by people with
Andy Houghton, director of corporate relations for ABILITY Awareness, the
nonprofit arm of the magazine, had the opportunity to work on the first
ABILITY house in Alabama.
Houghton, who uses a wheelchair, said the project goes beyond just
providing accessible housing for people with disabilities.
"It's great to see it from the back perspective where people don't really
realize what they've gained from it," Houghton said.
At the Birmingham work site, people with and without disabilities came
together to work. Initially, people with disabilities were being
bombarded with offers of help and over-attentiveness from others.
"By the end of the five days, they're working with you and not even
asking those questions," Houghton said.
The project also helps people with disabilities overcome their own
attitudes toward their disabilities, Houghton said.
Matthew Seals, a volunteer at the Birmingham work site, was paralyzed
from the waist down after being injured in an Alabama tornado in 1998.
Working on the ABILITY house this year was the first time Seals had
attempted to work at his trade since his injury.
Houghton said Seals spoke about how the experience changed his views on
what he was able to accomplish.
Breaking down attitude barriers such as these transcends into the work
force and daily living, said Houghton.
Cooper said at this point, project locations are being driven by where
ABILITY Awareness is able to get sponsorship, but that he would like to
generate interest locally.
"The ABILITY House projects call attention to the fact that persons with
disabilities are often overlooked in terms of their energy, talents and
skills, and can contribute to their communities," Cooper said.