COLORADO SPRINGS — After a decade of service fighting to give people with disabilities a voice in southern Colorado at The Independence Center, CEO Patricia Yeager has announced her retirement from the organization.
Yeager and our News 5 Investigates team have worked together on dozens of stories over the last 10 years. Together, we exposed major issues impacting people with disabilities and then focused on finding solutions to those problems.
In all, Yeager has dedicated 40 years to advocating for people with disabilities with the last 10 years spent right here in Colorado Springs.
"When I got here in 2011, it was sort of like the ADA hadn't really come over the Palmer Divide," she said. "There wasn't a lot of work going on around the ADA and now the city and county and all sorts of other organizations are really embracing the idea that we really need to include everyone."
Over the years, News 5 Investigates has called attention to a lack of accessible parking spots, curb cuts and ramps that made travel difficult for people in wheelchairs.
Some ADA related issues even prompted controversial lawsuits to be filed against area businesses. Those lawsuits sought monetary damages.
Yeager says after multiple stories aired profiling this problem, she started seeing major progress by city leaders.
"Colorado Springs is (now) more of a role model for smaller cities and towns who ask, 'Well what is Colorado Springs doing?' Colorado Springs has a whole ADA department that is making sure curb cuts are going in correctly and buildings are designed correctly."
One of the biggest issues Yeager recalls us profiling had to deal with doctors offices and medical facilities not having ADA accessible medical equipment.
With the help of grant money, The Independence Center worked with area organizations to provide a handful of specialized exam room tables and lift equipment to help people with mobility issues easily transfer from their wheelchair. Yeager says it was often difficult for doctors to accurately assess someone's weight or conduct a full exam when patients had to remain in their wheelchair.
The Independence Center also played a critical role in informing the public about new technology to assist people with disabilities.
“Being able to see street signs and pick up a book and read it to my son, help with homework and help with cooking, I could go on forever with the things these glasses help me with,” Ratcliff said.
The following year, News 5 worked with The Independence Center to tackle a new issue threatening people with disabilities.
Over the last few years, there's been a spike in people trying to pass off emotional support animals as certified service animals.
The issue got so out of hand, lawmakers took note of what was happening.
New (USDOT) rules took effect this year allowing airlines to restrict exotic pets and only allow trained service animals on planes for people who need them.
The changes came after multiple passengers tried to bring unruly animals like pigs on a plane.
"The press (the media) is so important in educating people about all of those advocacy issues we talked about," Yeager said.
Yeager says she's proud that she has been able to double staffing numbers and promote The Independence Center as an agency dedicated to making sure people with disabilities are given an equal voice in society.
She says make no mistake----there's still a lot of work to be done. However, she says now is the right time for her to step aside and let someone else advance the strong foundation this organization has built.
"It's time for other people to take that on and I need to find some other things to be passionate about," Yeager said. "I still got a lot of life, I just need to redirect it. I want to travel and hike."
Before departing, Yeager says she can't take all the credit and says none of the accomplishments could have been done without her amazing team.
"I think people like working here because they can see they are having an impact on an issue or group of people," she said. "How many times in our lives do we get to have that feeling of saying that something happened because I was able to help. It just feels really good."
Indy Frazee, The Independence Center's home health care administrator will take on the role of CEO following Yeager's retirement later this year.
Have an ADA-related issue or problem you'd like our investigative team to look into? We're here for you! Email us anytime: News5Investigates@KOAA.com.