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Innovative Library and Studio Apartment Open at Birmingham’s United Ability

A state-of-the-art Limitless Learning Library at United Ability tailored to foster adult learning. (Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson, For The Birmingham Times)

By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson

The Birmingham Times

United Ability on Friday held a grand opening of the Limitless Learning Library and Studio Apartment aimed to enhance the learning experience of individuals in its adult program.

The transformative spaces were designed and built at no cost by Goodwyn Mills Cawood Architects.

United Ability provides programming designed to promote self-reliance and improve the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities.

The state-of-the-art makeover in the library was created to foster learning, said Susan Sellers, CEO of United Ability.

“Our adults go on 600 community outings a year, and one of the places they go is a library,” she said. “So, when you go to a library — how do you pick up a book? how do you read? how do you work on a computer? So, this space will help teach all of those things.”

She added that both spaces “are our classrooms for our day program. When they’re here, we are working to fully integrate with their community and working with them to become more independent.”

Gary Owens, Regional Vice President of Goodwyn, Mills, Cawood Architects, said it all started for his firm with a tour of the facility about a year ago.

One of the adults in the day program asked if he could sing a song for Owens’ group and he (Owens) enthusiastically agreed. He said it was an encounter he will never forget.

“It fell on my heart that the things that are going on here are truly remarkable,” he said. “From infants all the way up … just the good that’s going on here, is pretty amazing.”

That inspiration moved him and his team to do something special for United Ability, Owens recalled. His firm donated the materials and labor to create a new Limitless Learning Library and a new Studio Apartment at the Adult Program Building.

Specially designed living space at United Ability to support adult program participants’ unique needs as a learning lab to live more independently. (Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson, For The Birmingham Times)

Owens and several of his team members were on hand for the grand opening on Friday. And shortly after that dedication, new flooring was unveiled in the activity room in the nearby Hand in Hand building, also part of the United Ability campus.

Sellers said that program currently serves 141 children from six weeks to five years of age – 40 percent of whom have a disability.

“The kids with a disability are very motivated by their peers (who are developing normally) when they’re in physical therapy,” she said. “They’re trying to get them to learn how to walk and take steps and the typically developing peers are cheering them on.”

Because some of the students who are medically frail cannot participate in outdoor activity and play with extreme weather variations, temperature regulation provided by the indoor activity room is a huge factor.

The Jefferson County Commission, along with three private foundations, pledged money to help install the new flooring – renovated from older, firmer, padded carpet to softer, colorful, shock-absorbing carpet – which creates a safer environment for active children to play and engage in physical therapy.

Lead Physical Therapist Marliese Delgado said the facility is crucial for children to “learn together and play together.”

Delgado says peer connection is crucial for growth.  “It allows them to interact together as friends in a setting that’s safe and also allows them to just be kids,” she said. “Kids with disabilities are not babies, they’re not special, they are all just kids playing with each other.”

Sellers added that Hand in Hand is a great resource for working parents because “we’re the only learning inclusion program in the state that is open five days a week that cares for children with complex medical needs.”

The newly opened Adult Program facilities are located at Dr. E’s Place, formerly LINCPoint Adult Day Program Building, at 101 Oslo Circle in Birmingham. Hand in Hand Early Learning Program is located at 120 Oslo Circle.

For more visit www.unitedability.org




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