By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News
Most of the time during the summer, the Portland International Raceway is abuzz with cars blazing hell-bent over its two-mile course that winds along the lowlands to the west of Delta Park. But during a two-hour stretch on Tuesday evenings over the summer, you might see a hardy group of hand cyclists cruising the pavement as if they owned the place. Most of them have a disability and are taking advantage of the 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. time slot to use hand cycles to explore the racetrack and set their own personal best times.
The summertime hand cycling event is part of a program that aims to increase independence among those with disabilities. Sponsored by Incight, a Portland-based non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities, participants can sign up through Incight’s website for one of Incight’s 30 hand cycles that will be available at PIR from July through September.
“It’s a great community,” said Scott Hatley, Incight’s community relations and grants administrator. “Some people bring out their own hand cycles, and everyone has a wonderful time on the track.”
Hatley, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, co-founded Incight in 2004 with colleague Vail Horton, who is a congenital amputee. As students at the University of Portland, Hatley and Horton found that 16 percent of students with disabilities graduated from college and 76 percent were unemployed. Those statistics spurred their determination to get more people with disabilities contributing in society.
The hand-cycling events are just one example of what Incight has to offer, and it is part of Incight’s quest to increase independence for people with disabilities. In general, Incight has programs that fit into three categories: education, employment and independence.
In the area of education, Incight provides scholarships, resources, coaching partnerships for teachers and mentoring relationships for students who have disabilities. Incight has developed curriculum for teachers who work with transition students. Scholarships are intended for students who want to pursue college and trade schools. Most scholarships range from $500 to $1,000 although there are some that extend up to $2,500.
“We seek those individual students who are change agents in their community,” noted Hatley, “helping bust the stigmas surrounding disabilities.”
In the area of employment, Incight has a two-pronged effort. On the one hand, its programs help job seekers with disabilities to prepare for employment, network and make connections with employers. On the other hand, it has programs that work with companies to offer a more inviting and inclusive workplace.
Adult job seekers are welcomed to attend one of Incight’s 18 employment events. The big one is called Tapping Fresh Talent Career Expo, and it will take place on April 23 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Oregon Convention Center.
“About 50 employers will be there,” remarked Hatley. “They represent all industries: large and small as well as public sector and non-profit. We expect over 500 job seekers to attend. There’s no charge for admission.”
Incight also has a program happening the same day called Student Central for high-school youth. It is geared for people who are in their first experience at a job fair. They learn what it means to get a job and how to go out and find it.
Some smaller events throughout the year are arranged through the Meet Business program, which is focused specifically on one industry, such as health care or government. Other smaller events are offered through the Live Resume program. It teaches how to pitch yourself to companies and prepare for the next opportunity. The participants in the Live Resume program are prescreened and coached very carefully.
In addition to hand-cycling, Incight is creating a league for a game called Electric Hockey.
“Electric Hockey is a sport that comes from Denmark,” explained Hatley. “It has joystick-only mobility. So anyone with a disability like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis or a spinal injury who can operate a joystick can play. The specialized carts can go 10 miles an hour, whereas a typical wheelchair goes around three miles an hour. The players have a blast! There are big smiles and lots of laughter. We have the first six carts in North America. So this is a big deal!”