Disability Action Center makes life more accessible
By Kaye Hult
Sherri Boelter, independent living advocate at the Disability Action Center NW office in Post Falls, said she has "always had a heart for people," but her own diagnosis with a disability has freed her to greater understanding of those with disabilities she works with.
"I work to make an impact for people with disabilities, to change things to make life more accessible, so that they can live independently. They often decline more quickly without support to stay in their own homes," she said.
The Post Falls Disability Action Center (DAC) serves Region 1 in Idaho, the five northern counties of Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, Benewah and Shoshone.
Sherri said their core services include personal and community advocacy, peer counseling and support, independent living skills training, information and referral, transition from institutions and youth transition.
While much of the work is in the office is information and referrals, Sherri plans more community outreach in order to raise awareness of the local office and provide services to those who need them.
"Disabilities don't define who we are," she explained.
She has done outreach at the high schools and senior centers in Clark Fork and Pinehurst.
"Those communities are so isolated," she said. "My goal is to bring awareness of the resources that are available."
The Disability Action Center NW is planning small-scale ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Awareness Resource Fairs in both places in September.
When Sherri presented a workshop on emergency preparedness to seniors in Rathdrum last spring, participants walked away better prepared in case of an emergency.
Recently, DAC went to a Veterans Stand Down.
Because weather can define whether people are able to travel, she plans to host workshops during the winter on Zoom to keep people connected to the DAC community.
"We are such a people-oriented program," she added. "COVID was hard! Zoom's great, but not the same as one-on-one."
"My main service is to provide peer support," she said. "I offer resources and referrals so people with any disability can remain in their own homes and be active in their own community.
"I've been diagnosed with Adult ADD," she said. "I thought I was tired. When I was diagnosed, it was freeing to understand that I have a disability. "At first, I was fearful because of people's possible stigma reaction. I have to rein myself in, to focus. It's not easy."
Because of her disability, Sherri is able to relate to others with disabilities, to make a peer connection with them.
DAC has held Meet and Greet gatherings where people gather to talk about how DAC can help.
Right now, the biggest concern is the lack of housing.
Sherri provides advocacy and education on housing and homelessness.
"Our voices need to be heard in Boise," she said. "Random rebates are not adequate. The state needs to put funds in a housing coalition fund. Post Falls needs to create a homeless shelter and to help those transitioning from homelessness to success.
In July, DAC celebrated the 32nd anniversary of the ADA with an event at McEuen Park in Coeur d'Alene, focusing on support animals and presentations by Canine Companions.
Since then, DAC has had inquiries such as from people with disabilities in search of affordable housing. Many lost their homes because of rent increases. Some have sought peer support for day-to-day struggles, just needing to talk to someone and find out what resources are available.
"Accessibility is key," she said.
For example, one woman recently picked up a wheel chair.
Donna's MS (Multiple Sclerosis) progressed slowly. It was hard to notice the changes, she said, likening it to a frog in boiling water.
Suddenly one day, she realized she couldn't walk far any more nor keep plans she had made. She had to use her walker to cross the lawn.
A friend's harsh, but well-intended words, and Donna's inability to do her job properly were her wake-up calls.
"I realized I was missing out on life," she said.
Asking DAC about funding for a wheelchair was something Donna said she would never do.
'It signified that I was giving up and letting my disease win," she said.
After a weekend of reflection, however, she decided to adopt another perspective: "A wheelchair is a tool. It doesn't define me. It can be there to return the part of my life that I had given up. It could return my freedom."
Sherri provided Donna with a motorized wheelchair that could give Donna independence. She picked it up the next day.
"For someone with a disability, things like canes, walkers and wheelchairs are not just equipment. They are life-changing necessities," Donna said, expressing gratitude to Sherri and DAC.
"I'm doing what I love," Sherri said. "I've been in nonprofit work for 28 years in different capacities. With my background, I am good at advocacy and peer support, because I can relate to people who struggle."
Born in Bakersfield, Calif., after she finished high school in Porterville, Sherri studied two years of college in drug and alcohol counseling. She raised her three boys in Novato, in the Bay area, and then started working for a behavioral health program, providing services to people in rural communities.
After working in a drug and alcohol program in Corcoran State Prison, she worked for a nonprofit resource center as a case manager for their behavioral health program.
She started as a domestic violence counselor, then managed their homeless shelter. For two years, she worked in a nutritional program for low-income families.
Sherri moved to North Idaho in 2015 to be closer to her father. Now, her entire family has moved to the area.
DAC will host the Get Outside! (G.O.) Independent Living Conference, in partnership with the Nez Perce Tribe Vocational Rehabilitation Services, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 14 and 15 at Clearwater River Casino, 17500 Nez Perce Rd., in Lewiston.
At that event, people with disabilities can meet and explore options for employment, recreation and education. Workshops will offer training in leadership and advocacy skills for making communities more accessible. There will be a resource fair.
RSVP for the G.O. conference on DAC's Facebook.