Center for Independent Living celebrates grand opening of new store on Telegraph

Ashley Chen/Staff

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The Center for Independent Living celebrated the grand opening Friday of its new redistribution store on Telegraph Avenue.

The Shop @ CIL  is run by the center, a 40-year-old organization created for the betterment of disabled individuals locally and nationally. The new shop will repair wheelchairs and redistribute donated scooters and other technology devices to assist the disabled and the elderly.

The grand opening included a tour of the space, demonstrations of equipment and speeches by city leaders such as Mayor Tom Bates, disability awareness speaker Gary Karp and Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

The center has provided accessible housing, transportation, employment, and prevented discrimination against disabled people, Bates said, giving Berkeley the distinction of being the birthplace of disabled rights.

“(The center) has done so many good things … it’s been a really incredible gem that we have here in Berkeley,” Bates said in an interview. “It’s terrific having another asset for disabled people, in this case getting wheelchairs and other apparatus they need repaired.”

Yomi Wong, the center’s executive director, who is disabled and uses a power scooter herself, said the purpose of the shop is to provide services that empower people with disabilities.

“In some ways, we are coming full circle because (the shop location) is a historic site here,” Wong said. “The shop is both a way to hold onto our heritage and bring the community much needed services.”

The center, which was originally located in the shop’s current location on Telegraph, moved to the Ed Roberts Campus,  a disability services center located above Ashby BART Station in April 2011.

“There are a lot of people with disabilities in Berkeley, a lot of people who don’t have access to devices and equipment they need,” said Lauri Shay, the store’s manager. “This is an opportunity for us to give out equipment they need to live lives more independently.”

Founded in 1972 by disabled UC Berkeley students, the center helped bring about curb cuts — the wheelchair accessible ramps in sidewalks —  in Berkeley and organized the West Coast testimony to help pass the landmark American with Disabilities Act in 1990.

The ultimate mission of the center is to provide better access to services for the disabled, especially technology such as power wheelchairs, said Carolyn Scarr, program coordinator at the institute.

“(The center) was at the forefront nationwide,” Bates said. “It’s one of the most important things that’s happened in Berkeley.”

Staff writer Sara Khan contributed to this report.