A Nonprofit That's Working
Chances are, if you know someone in the Greater Birmingham area with a disability, they’ve been affected by the work of United Ability (formerly United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham). This historic nonprofit serves thousands of people each year and has steadily expanded the scope of its programs and patients. It’s a place, a cause, and a credo. And it’s putting people with disabilities to work.
In Alabama, only 28% of working-age adults with disabilities are employed*. Increasing employment for this demographic aligns with United Ability’s mission to help people with disabilities lead full and meaningful lives. They believe work can create a feeling of empowerment and a chance to connect to the greater community. So, they’ve focused on developing a full range of employment options, even founding a secure document destruction company in 2006. Gone For Good provides its 100 employees with not only a paycheck, but a sense of independence. They recycle enough paper annually to save 18,000 trees and their profits are recycled, as well, to support other programs at United Ability.
A second enterprise, Outsource Solutions, employs participants who supply packaging, collating, assembly, and fulfillment services.
“We envision a world where disability is neither defining, nor limiting and help unite people with unique abilities in achieving a successful future.” CEO, Dr. Gary Edwards
United Ability’s focus on employment is mutually-beneficial in other respects. Several universities partner with the organization to conduct disability services research as part of a multi-state grant. In turn, United Ability offers internships for students of those same universities in physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, social work, nursing, education, and other fields of study. United Ability staff are pioneers in the fledgling field of supported employment training, making the internships excellent mentorship opportunities for young people.
United Ability was founded in 1948 to provide services to those with cerebral palsy. However, as the needs of people in the community living with disabilities have evolved, so has the organization. Today, United Ability serves individuals living with a variety of disabilities including cerebral palsy, spina bifida, autism, Down Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, limb loss/deficiency, closed head injuries, intellectual, and more. The move away from “United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham” towards “United Ability” demonstrates a more positive outlook and a more inclusive mission.
“Today, we have grown and are united in purpose, who we want to be. We changed the name to accurately reflect what we already are and have been doing—helping people with disabilities lead more enriched lives,” says Dr. Gary Edwards, CEO.
It’s difficult to quantify the impact of an organization so engrained in families’ lives. Yet, one measure would be the success they’ve had utilizing technology to improve services and access. United Ability incorporates state-of-the-art technology related to classroom instruction, communication devices, and health records. It doesn’t go unnoticed—people travel long distances to seek help. Despite being a fixture in the community for nearly 70 years, United Ability is unique in the state as the only organization providing a life-spectrum of services to people living with disabilities. With a full array of programs offered from their campus on Lakeshore Drive, as well as in-home early intervention services, the organization creates treasured opportunities for care, learning, and employment.
As Edwards puts it, “We envision a world where disability is neither defining, nor limiting and help unite people with unique abilities in achieving a successful future.”
UNITED ABILITY AT A GLANCE
Mission: United Ability provides innovative services connecting people with disabilities to their communities and empowering individuals to live full and meaningful lives.
Vision: To unite people with unique abilities in achieving a successful future.
- 70 years of changing lives.
- 95 cents of every dollar raised for the Journey of Hope event will directly support the advancement of medicine, technology, and therapies for people living with disabilities.
- 156 full-time and 37 part-time employees staff the 20-acre campus.
- 600 customers served by Gone For Good Secure Document Destruction.
- 3,185 children, adults, and families assisted by United Ability programs in 2016.
***SOURCE*** ## * Lauer, E.A., and A.J. Houtenville. Annual Disability Statistics Compendium: 2016. Durham: University of New Hampshire, Institute on Disability, 2017. Accessed June 2, 2017. https://disabilitycompendium.org/sites/default/files/user-uploads/2016%20Annual%20Disability%20Statistics%20Compendium1.pdf.
United Ability is accredited by both the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) for its early learning program. It recently earned a coveted four-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator. In addition, United Ability’s chief medical officer, Dr. Charlie Law, is the state’s only practicing physiatrist dually certified to treat both children and adults with disabilities. To learn more, visit unitedability.org.