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Tips for Independent Living

Floyd Stewart, a quadraplegic featured prominently in Freedom Machines, offers tips on living independently with a physical disability.

My name is Floyd Stewart, Jr. My disabling condition, quadriplegia, came as a result of an automobile accident on January 15, 1984. I was 35 years old. I spent six and one half months at the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center in Smyrna, Tennessee.

I entered Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, sponsored by the Division of Rehabilitation Services, in January of 1985. As a freshman, I majored in psychology. There I had my first taste of working with a personal assistant (PA), i.e. screening, interviewing, hiring, orientating, training and managing my personal care arrangement. I quickly learned that it is better to do a good job on the front end than to try and patch things up midstream.

The first issue, in my opinion, when seeking a PA is honesty. Find a person you can trust and the rest is simply training through open communication. Once this hurdle is bridged it was up to me to manage time and fiscal recourses so that this relationship ran like clockwork. John Lennon once wrote, "Life is what happens after we've made other plans." Prepare for the inevitable. Good back-up plans are imperative.

I graduated December 16, 1989. I was the intern in a nursing home from March of 1986 to October 3, 1992. I commuted from the nursing home to MTSU and later to work, volunteering at the Technology Access Center. I became a program coordinator for People First of Tennessee, Inc. , working as a VISTA worker (Volunteer In Service To America or domestic Peace Corp).

I basically used the same screening technique when interviewing PAs upon moving out of the nursing home. Finding a PA was easier for me than most. The nursing home I lived in warehoused over 650 souls with, as you may imagine, a huge nursing staff. Finding a PA consisted of developing a makeshift application and distributing it to the nursing stations throughout the facility. Within today's PA market one must use the resources available to her/him (e.g. newspaper, church bulletins, word of mouth, etc. ) creatively.

I am now employed (since September 2, 1992) full-time at the Center for Independent Living of Middle Tennessee (CIL) as a Peer Support Coordinator. I now live in the community independently with the aid of my family and 2 personal care assistants.

— Floyd Stewart

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