Don't Let That Wheelchair Stop You! The David Allgood Story
“I want people with disabilities to be at the table to share their opinions and make sure that services provided to us have our perspective.” These are
words that David Allgood lives every day in his role as Director of Advocacy at the Center for Accessible Living in Louisville, Ky.
David believes the single most important act of advocacy is something everyone can do. “People with disabilities are the largest minority in the country and the most powerful thing we have is the power to vote.” He believes that “if people with disabilities would become educated on issues that affect them and cast their vote we could become the most powerful minority. But if we refuse to do this, we’ll get the benefits and services that others hand us.”
David encourages those with disabilities, as well as their family and friends, to make it a priority to register to vote and learn how candidates stand
on issues that could affect their lives. “If you don’t have accessible transportation, take advantage of absentee voting. There’s really no excuse
not to cast your vote.”
David believes the single most important act of advocacy is something everyone can do. “People with disabilities are the largest minority in the country and the most powerful thing we have is the power to vote.” He believes that “if people with disabilities would become educated on issues that affect them and cast their vote we could become the most powerful minority. But if we refuse to do this, we’ll get the benefits and services that others hand us.” David encourages those with disabilities, as well as their family and friends, to make it a priority to register to vote and learn how candidates stand on issues that could affect their lives. “If you don’t have accessible transportation, take advantage of absentee voting. There’s really no excuse not to cast your vote.”
The biggest challenge in getting others with disabilities involved in advocacy efforts may be that they would rather avoid activities that draw attention and David understands this. “As someone with a disability I already felt that I stood out as being different so I didn’t want to draw attention to make people look at me more,” he explained. Although it wasn’t always easy, David has certainly gotten past this feeling and strives to recruit others with disabilities to realize how important their voice is, even if it might bring unwelcome attention.
When David was 16 years old he was paralyzed after an accident and spent two months in a rehab hospital with a halo. After schooling at home for a time he eventually returned to high school. “I went back to high school in a wheelchair. Going back to a place where I was once an athlete was difficult…quite a change for me. Fortunately, I had an incredibly supportive family who helped me tremendously or I wouldn’t be where I am today,” David said. “My sister actually quit college for a while and came back to Louisville to help with my care. My two brothers were critical in my recovery and subsequent success.” David’s father and step-mother also provided steadfast support. “My father was bedrock for me. After my injury I became an introvert and pretty much sat in our basement for several months,” David said. “My father had a talk with me one day and told me that he knew things were tough, but it was time for me to move on. He told me that things had changed, but I was going to be able to do the things I wanted to do but in a different way.” David’s father finished by assuring him that one thing that would never change is that his family would always be there to do whatever they needed to do. “He put a fire under me,” David said. “His words made me get out and try to be an average high school student.” David’s friends who were with him the night of his accident continue to be supportive today. “When we were still in school they would put me in a car and take me places. They helped me do things like other high school students.”
Another pivotal connection that provided needed support for David was the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in Kentucky. “They have a great program to assist people with disabilities to gain or return to employment,” David said. “My goal after high school was to get a degree and with the help of this organization I received tuition and attendant care, as well as room and board. They also paid for the modification of a van that I purchased so I could drive. Actually, I am now on my third adapted van!”
When David went to the University of Kentucky he transitioned from being in a high school with two students with disabilities to living with 12 others with disabilities, 10 of who were wheelchair users. “I saw the possibilities of things that I could do and how to do them through the experiences of these other students. I realized I had rights as a person with disabilities.” The seeds of advocacy began to develop.
David began working with the Center for Accessible Living 19 years ago as a board member and soon transitioned into a part-time job that eventually led to full-time employment. One of his early responsibilities was working with the Center’s Rampbuilders program providing custom-designed home access ramps and railings to persons with disabilities. Whenever possible the ramps are provided at no cost to the recipient so they can get safely in and out of their homes. David also worked in Employment Services before becoming Director of Advocacy. “In this job I spend a lot of time advocating for individuals with disabilities,” David said. “I also help resolve complaints from those who have been discriminated against because of their disabilities.”
David is also often at the Kentucky state capitol talking to legislators. “Working for decisions and laws that will be beneficial to people with disabilities and also fighting against legislation that might have a negative effect is very important,” David said.
David’s credentials as an advocate are impressive. He graduated from the University of Kentucky with a master’s degree in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling. He has been appointed by the Governor of Kentucky to the Hart-State Supported Living Board (Chair) and KYNECT. David also serves on the board of the Kentucky Spinal Cord & Head Injury Trust Fund. “In Kentucky a portion of everyone’s speeding ticket fine goes back into a large pot and this trust fund allocates between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky to help fund spinal cord and head injury research,” David explained. He has also served on the statewide advisory council for Vocational Rehabilitation and the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities. In Louisville, David was appointed by the mayor to serve on the Citizens Commission on Police Accountability and the Metro Human Relations Disability Advisory Committee. “My focus is on helping people with disabilities and my involvement with these organizations can help impact their lives in a positive way. However, in my vision we all benefit from good health care and affordable, accessible transportation. For example, many of these issues benefit both the disabled and the elderly.”
Although David is a strong, effective advocate he is very aware that many others must get involved. “If we want to change and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, we can’t expect to sit back and let it be done for us,” David said. “There is no better voice to start the process of change than those individuals who are directly impacted and live with it every day. I’ve learned that our elected officials want to hear from their constituents – both positive and negative. It is up to us to make our voices heard.”
David encourages individuals with disabilities to contact legislators and establish a relationship. “Email is a very effective way to present your experiences and opinions relating to the work elected officials do,” he said. “Be professional and authentic. When the law makers and their staffs get to know you and realize you are a reliable source they can trust, they actually begin to ask your opinion. They have hundreds of bills to consider and often need help understanding the issues.” David has experienced this first-hand and knows it can make a difference in the way legislators vote. He encourages people with disabilities to attend local town hall meetings and meet their elected officials there. “These personal connections are very important.” David also emphasized the importance of thanking legislators who are helpful. “A written ‘thank you’ is best but even a sincere telephone message is appropriate.”
Being an active volunteer is another type of effective advocacy that David endorses. “There are many opportunities to help others with disabilities even if you are disabled. I often go to the local rehab hospital and talk to newly injured patients about community-based services available to them,” he said. “I remember how much I learned from other wheelchair users when I first started college and try to do that for others. Hopefully realizing that there are many things you can do – even travel – if you don’t let that wheelchair stop you!
“With my wonderful wife of 15 years I’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively and I love to travel! I’m incredibly lucky to have Lisa to share these experiences,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed cruises and have traveled to Key West, as well as 15 other states. We’ve learned how to rent accessible vans although it isn’t good that they cost more than other vehicles!” David and Lisa also enjoy festivals, music events and trying new restaurants.
“When I was lying in bed after my accident if you had told me I would go to college, drive, get married, build my own home, work full time and be able to do all the things I can do, I would have said you were crazy,” David said with a chuckle. However, not only has David accomplished all of these things, he also is devoting his life’s work to helping others with disabilities also reach their goals and realize their dreams can come true.
David Allgood may be reached at email@example.com
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