Exerpt from Ability Magazine by Romney Snyder

Mark Goffeney...

aka Big Toe, a musician (see CAP 2008 video) who lives in San Diego, places a call to airline reservations asking for the accommodations he needs to comfortably fly the mark-goffeneyfour-and-a-half hours to Honolulu to volunteer building Hawaii’s first ABILITY House. “I was born without arms,” he tells the airline representative, “and I use my feet for things other people use their hands for. If there is an empty seat on the plane, I need my seat reserved next to it so I can eat and reach around without bumping someone else with my knees.

A wheelchair, of course, isn’t much use to a man who can walk—and who also runs, swims, drives a car, effortlessly entertains crowds as he plays guitar with his band Big Toe, and has even been featured in a national TV commercial changing a baby’s diaper with his feet. So please, would someone get this man a wheelchair! And STAT! (And maybe some flight safety instructions in Braille for him to peruse.)

For every person like Mark Goffeney out there hoping others will see that he is an individual and not a category, there are many more people like the airline representative who unconsciously pigeon-hole people with disabilities into the roles that fit their preconceived notions and stereotypes. That’s one reason the ABILITY House program was created.

Each ABILITY House is built through a partnership between the nonprofits ABILITY Awareness and Habitat for Humanity to provide an accessible home for a family where one or more members have disabilities. Additionally, the program reaches into the local community, inviting people with all ranges of health conditions and disabilities to join the volunteer team in constructing the home. As these diverse volunteers work together on the build site, a transformation frequently occurs in both the volunteers with disabilities and their able-bodied counterparts. The tangible, cooperative act of building a house together shatters myths and stereotypes. As Dr. Patricia Morrissey, commissioner of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, noted in a recent training video for ABILITY Awareness, “Volunteerism is a very constructive way to teach people without disabilities what people with disabilities are capable of doing.

A grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency supporting volunteerism, along with support from Hewlett Packard and founding sponsor ABILITY Magazine, has allowed the ABILITY House program to expand over the past year, working especially to increase volunteering opportunities for veterans, recuperating servicemembers and college students with
disabilities.

The ABILITY House that Goffeney joined in building was constructed in Waimanalo, Hawaii, in partnership with Honolulu Habitat for Humanity, as the new home for the Kamaiopili family, a grandmother with degenerative back disease and her three adopted grandchildren. Construction was timed to coincide with the Pacific Rim Conference hosted annually by the Center on Disability Studies at the University of Hawaii. The home’s universal design features—a no-step entrance, wider doors and hallways and an accessible bathroom—will ensure that the Kamaiopili family and their visitors will continue to have ease of access for decades to come.

Actor Max Gail, a long-time ABILITY House supporter best known for his role as Detective Wojo on the sitcom Barney Miller, came out to volunteer, as did actor/Paralympian John Siciliano and comedian Jeff Charlebois.

Several servicemembers from the Medical Retention Processing Unit at Schoffield Barracks, the Army unit on the island of Oahu responsible for rehabilitating injured soldiers—many of whom have returned from combat in Iraq—made the 45-minute journey from base to lend their muscle to the project. As a special acknowledgement for their efforts, Miss Universe Natalie Glebova, who also joined in the build as a volunteer, made a visit to the barracks, where she posed for pictures and signed autographs.

Nancie Ozimkowski, a volunteer who is blind, described the Waimanalo ABILITY House build as “the most empowering experience I’ve ever had.” Ironically, she had been married for 20 years to a building contractor and remarked, “In all the years of my marriage I never had the opportunity to hammer a single nail!

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