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Stressing ‘ability’ in ‘disability’

Linda Hiller

Ted Nagel tries to look at the “ability” in disability.

As the general manager of the 4CSon Independence Center, he is in charge of coordinating employers and disabled employees into a mutually beneficial relationship.

“Each person has a different ability, no matter what their disability might be,” he said. “We try to look for that ability.”

The recently-opened “supported employment” agency has as its goal, “helping those with special needs achieve and maintain independence and a greater quality of life and helping individuals with physical or mental limitations as well seniors to be active in their community while providing a means of self-support.”

This translates into finding employment for disabled members of the Douglas County and Carson City community, who sometimes need guidance in placement with employers.

Nagel has seen many sides of the world of employment from his venue. The youngest of eight children, he was born in in Encino, Calif. in 1958 with a rare birth defect – arthro-gryposis multiplex congenita.

“No one knows too much about it because it is so rare,” he said. “There are an estimated one in three million with my condition. I’ve only met a few people who have it.”

He said his early years were never limited by his disability.

“My family was extremely supportive,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better family. During my childhood, we were taught, ‘If you can do it, do it; if you can’t do it, ask,’ and I’m pretty stubborn – I don’t like the word ‘can’t.'”

Nagel said he walked with leg braces as a child, but when he was in college he broke his ankle severely and hasn’t walked since.

“I believe in miracles, though,” he said.

He has very little use of his hands and drives his electric wheelchair using a knob at his elbow.

Nagel said he has only been hassled one time while living his independent life in a wheelchair. Once when he was leaving a convenience store in Sacramento, he saw someone coming up on his left, going for Nagel’s wallet in a pocket on the side of the chair.

“I have excellent peripheral vision and I saw this guy coming up fast behind me,” he said. “When he got to me, I turned the chair to the left, tripped him with my leg and he went down pretty hard.”

Nagel then motored over to the downed thug, and rolling over the man’s hand and pinning him there until the police came.

“He was pretty banged up by then,” he said.

When Nagel works on the computer he uses a metal rod with a mouthpiece, typing and moving the mouse with speed and dexterity. As he answers the phone, Nagel uses a headset that picks up the receiver when he moves his head and pulls down the mouthpiece, thus activating the phone.

These skills have enabled him to work in accounting, advertising, and graphic design, as well as in customer service and on a switch board, among other jobs.

A self-admitted “perpetual student,” Nagel started college in Los Angeles, studying architecture and has also studied engineering, computer programming and accounting.

“I have a very analytical mind,” he said. “I am always looking at ways to improve things.”

Last year at this time, Nagel was living on his own in south Seattle, Wash., going to school full-time, studying engineering and working for several non-profit organizations.

His sister, Ellie O’Toole, executive director of the Sierra Assisted Living Foundation (SALF) project being built in the Gardnerville Ranchos, called him and asked for his help.

“She said there was a real need here for a supportive employment agency and wondered if I’d consider coming to run it,” he said. Nagel had previously lived in South Lake Tahoe for 13 years, so he was no stranger to the area.

“He had all the skills needed to do the job,” O’Toole said. “His computer skills and experiences made him the right person for the job.”

Although he was happy in Seattle, what he said is one of the most wheelchair-friendly cities in the U.S., Nagel agreed to come and run 4CSon.

Through this agency, individuals with disabilities and certain limitations can be referred to Nagel for placement. He can work with employers to secure appropriate jobs for these individuals at no cost to the employer or in most cases, the employee.

Supported employment is a four-phase service offered by 4CSon, Nagel said. Phase one is finding a job suitable to the client’s needs. Phase two involves sending a job coach to the jobsite to assist with training. Phase three is the “fading period,” where the job coach backs off, and phase four is where the job coach is pretty much out of the picture, but keeping tabs on the employee from time to time.

Employers who hire through 4CSon are eligible for a work opportunity tax credit (WOTC), which can amount to $2,100 for each WOTC employee, according to a 4CSon publication.

The agency is also offering services such as on-the-job training, on-site work teams, on-site or in-house assembly work, mailing and reminder services, independent living skills training, disability awareness training, seminars and workshops, disability and senior rights advocacy, special events, personal care attendant coordinating and more.

For Nagel, working with 4 CSon is a challenge and a pleasure, since it affords him the opportunity to work with people, something he obviously enjoys.

He is also working on his dream – getting a wheelchair he has designed made into a prototype that could be marketed.

“I need approximately $75,000 for the prototype alone,” he said. “It’s a great design. I have tried to design something to make a change in the industry, so mobility is a part of movement, not an accessory.”

Nagel said he is not interested in selling the idea to a large medical manufacturing company because of their highly-inflated prices.

“My chair cost approximately $21,000 and it probably cost only $1,500 to make,” he said. High costs from the medical industry are one of the reasons he hasn’t tried to walk since breaking his ankle many years ago, he said.

“In order to even try and walk, I would need custom-made leg braces, which would cost me $2,500 or more,” he said. ” Then if it doesn’t work, I’ll be out that money.”

4CSon Independence Center is located at 1187-A High School St. in Gardnerville. Business hours are Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Employers, prospective clients or anyone wanting more information can call 783-0029 or FAX 783-1866.