Julia's Story: Empowerment through Access & Community Collaboration
Updated: Feb 10
In July, The Berkeley Fire Department responded to what they thought would be a routine call to a young woman named Julia experiencing abdominal pains. They entered the home and immediately noticed the serious lack of access in place for Julia.
Firefighter Evan Lane noted, “You know, it's a huge part of what we do is getting people where they need to go. And in this particular incident, it was clear that access was a problem, both into the house and out of it.” Knowing the long history of TheCIL in Berkeley, Evan, on behalf of the Berkeley Firefighter Random Acts (BFRA), contacted the Residential Access Program.
Led by Margie Cochran for over 20 years, the Residential Access Program is the longest running TheCIL program and is responsible for making living situations for individuals with disabilities more accessible through the installation (at no cost to the client) of ramps, grab bars, and other necessary accommodations an individual may need to live independently.
Without hesitation, TheCIL jumped on board. Margie assessed Julia’s home: “There was a ramp, but it was too steep and it was hard or not really possible for her to negotiate herself”.
Margie determined that a lift was the best option for Julia as it would get her up to the front porch and eliminate the need for someone to assist her on the overly steep ramp.
For the project, TheCIL was able to supply the lift and supplies, while a contractor and the BFRA supplied the manual labor. This collaboration made a job, that would have otherwise taken longer, possible and swift. This highlights the importance of community engagement in creating accessible spaces for individuals with disabilities.
The BFRA’s recognition of a need and the willingness to provide lasting solutions for Julia is a remarkable feat that not only shows that individuals with disabilities are part of a community, it also shows that the community readily accepts these individuals and will do what is necessary to ensure that these individuals have the freedoms they need to engage and participate fully in their communities.
Evan has been a volunteer with the BFRA for several years. He notes, “There are a lot of disabled people in Berkeley that do not have access, an issue that plagues so many, still to this day, and they need help. And you know, our resources are limited to help in that way, and so are TheCIL’s, but when we are in partnership together, we could accomplish a lot.”
Margie also agrees on the positive and powerful impact of team work for the community and believes this will be an ongoing venture with the Berkeley Firefighters.
Collaboration is essential in bridging the gap between people and services they need and this teamwork also goes a long way in raising awareness to the challenges that people with disabilities face in their communities. This in turn allows for those challenges to be tackled one by one.
Julia delights: “[I knew that we were getting a lift, and] waiting for it was the hardest part because I knew that my life was about to get quite a bit easier going out. So once what’s lift was installed... I used it that day. It was so great.”
The lift is not only a tool for access for Julia, but it serves as a symbol of personal freedom to be a part of the community.
She adds, “Thank you to everybody who participated in this and donated and volunteered time. Thank you so much.”
Learn more about Julia in this recent video, Kids Meet a Teen With Chronic Illness | Kids Meet | HiHo Kids, where young people interviewed Julia about living with a number of chronic diseases for the webcast, "Kids Meet…" on the HiHo channel.