Ron Garcia: Advisor Profile
Jan. 28, 2016 – Ron Garcia values curiosity, and he put his own to full use when he visited the Research and Training Center on Independent Living for two days in January.
Garcia is a member of the Scientific and Consumer Advisory Panel (SCAP) for the Center. These external advisors contribute their expertise and experience to help keep the Center's research both rigorous and relevant to the lives of people with disabilities.
Garcia is one of the “consumer” advisors, representing the perspective of people with disabilities, who are consumers of services, especially services provided by centers for independent living (CILs). CILs advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and provide them with support services and training programs that help them lead self-sufficient and productive lives.
As Executive Director of New Vistas Center for Independent Living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Garcia had two goals for his visit: “To learn how I can support KU’s center in its work, and to learn how this center’s work has applications on the ground level – to make a difference in the lives of the people we serve.” He met with research staff and graduate students to discuss their projects and goals.
“Ron gave me valuable perspective on the way we have structured our project to increase health access for people with disabilities,” said Jean Ann Summers, research director for the center. “He helped us find a way to modify the training to make sure it involves everyone.” For his part, Garcia is very interested in new strategies that help people care for themselves, set and achieve goals, and stay healthy, as the Health Access for Independent Living (HAIL) project does.
“The biggest piece is advocacy, at the individual and system level,” Garcia said about his role at New Vistas. “We want people with disabilities to have a voice for themselves.” That attitude impressed Kelsey Shinnick, graduate research assistant, who enjoyed learning how CILs operate and conversations about historical advocacy movements. “While people with disabilities still have a lot of battles to fight, Ron inspired me to have a newfound respect for the disability leaders who helped us win the civil rights ‘war’ by creating the Americans with Disabilities Act,” she said.
Advocacy Meets Microbusiness
Garcia’s 30-year career in non-profit management and administration has allowed him to integrate his passion for the work with his entrepreneurial skills. He is always looking for practical ways to increase the independence of New Vistas’ consumers, and microbusiness is one answer. After a year of research, New Vistas recently purchased equipment for a 3-D printing business. It will employ a number of people with disabilities when production is fully underway.
“We want to focus on getting people employed in creative ways in rural and frontier areas so they don’t have to move to the city,” said Garcia, noting that New Mexico is extremely rural. “With this model, people in small towns anywhere can be independent. One person can do the printing, while another does the packing and shipping.”
The possibilities for 3-D products are almost endless, Garcia noted. At present, New Vistas is printing decorative seashell lights, which will be sold by a store in Santa Fe (see photo in right column). As the business grows, he said, “I will be excited if someone in a rural area can make replacement parts for tractors, cars or household items. Then their neighbors won’t have to travel 70 miles to get what they need.”
In other words, increased independence for people with disabilities can benefit everyone.