Activist Works to Help People With Disabilities Maintain Their Independence

David Carey is being honored for his work to help people with disabilities direct and control their own health care services, and for his activism to ensure safe public transportation options for them.

David Carey was just starting to live out his dreams in 1989—he was a baseball player at Scottsdale Community College and pursuing a degree in physical education. His life plan was shattered when his roommates accidentally discharged a gun. The bullet ricocheted through the apartment, striking the napping Carey in the back, piercing his spine.

The gunshot accident left Carey a quadriplegic. Instead of sitting in a classroom or practicing on the baseball diamond, he found himself preparing to spend the rest of his life in a nursing home. While there, Carey decided that, despite his disability, he had the rest of his life ahead of him. He continued his schooling while living in the nursing home, completing his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Arizona State University.

Today, he relies on his athletic training in his quest to help others with disabilities. “Baseball is like life,” said Carey. “When you're facing the best pitcher out there with two strikes against you, you have a choice: keep swinging or head for the dugout. Life is about choices. I have a new team—people with disabilities—and we have choices.”

Carey has relied on such teamwork and perseverance to help launch Inspire Human Services Co-op, one of the first self-directed cooperatives in the United States. Inspire Co-op is contracted to provide services such as habilitation, attendant care, and respite care to people with disabilities. It is unique because it is owned and directed by the people that use its services. Inspire has been serving those with disabilities for one and a half years.

As chair of Inspire, Carey successfully led negotiations to provide self-directed care such as habilitation (independent-living skills), attendant and respite care. In addition, he is working to achieve longer-term changes in Arizona's durable medical equipment access and repair systems. Currently, people with disabilities can face delays up to a year to receive replacement parts such as wheels and batteries for their wheelchairs.

In addition, Carey helps to manage the day-to-day activities of the cooperative by providing supervision and support to the administrative staff and leadership to the co-op board of directors and its members. He built and maintains Inspire's Web site.

Carey credits his work with Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL) with enabling him to advocate on a wide range of issues and establish Inspire. For example, he worked with the local transit authority to create accessible transportation when local buses did not meet the American with Disabilities Act guidelines. The transit authority brought a bus to Carey’s home, where he demonstrated for transit officials the hazards those with disabilities faced as they try to board the bus.

“I see others with disabilities doing their best to live day to day and who, given the opportunity and resources, do quite well despite the challenges they face,” Carey says, who works to make sure others with disabilities have the same options to live as independently as possible in their communities. “I am so lucky to have the support of my family and caregivers that enables me to be independent. I want the same for others.”