Darrin Umbarger, chief executive officer of Clearview Mediation and Disability Resource Center, wants to have a conversation about access.
For a person with a disability, he explained, navigating Eastern Oregon can be tricky. Some sidewalks have no access points. The examination table at the doctor’s office is too high. Most handicap parking spots don’t allow for vans with ramps.
Umbarger will host a town hall this week on barriers for people with disabilities, bringing to Pendleton representatives from Oregon Health and Science University, the Northwest Americans with Disabilities Act chapter and Disability Rights of Oregon.
The town hall is only a snippet of Umbarger’s efforts to help people with disabilities.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 25 years ago, Umbarger went through a few walkers, then wheelchairs, in the last few decades. He would lend his old equipment to people in need before his idea took flight as a free medical equipment loan program.
Earlier this year, GOBHI began channeling $1,500 per month to expand the loan program. Now, 50x50 foot warehouse is crammed with walkers, shower chairs, lifts and more. The hope is to get enough momentum to have satellite loaning stations throughout Eastern Oregon.
The program allows people to borrow the equipment for 90 days at a time. People sometimes take advantage of the charity by returning broken equipment, but Umbarger said he wants it to stay free.
“I figure, ‘Who do you and who don’t you (help)?’” he said. “People donated to here to have their stuff be given away. It wouldn’t be right to take money for it.”
Umbarger showed off his stair-climbing wheelchair in his office Monday. The machine, developed by the people behind the Segway, springs to standing position and rolls around on two wheels, testing his balance 300 times per second. It’s a favorite among children.
“The only disabling thing about kids is their parents,” Umbarger laughed. “They’ll be telling them not too look but I really like to show them.”
Like his equipment closet, Umbarger sees a community approach to better accessibility for people with disabilities.
On Thursday, Umbarger will hold a discussion with community members on access for people with disabilities. On Friday, he’ll gather community leaders to brainstorm possible solutions.
“I want people to have a forum to say, ‘I had problems with this and this and this,’” Umbarger said, “and then actually see what we could do about it.”
Contact Natalie Wheeler at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.