Dr. Dennis W. Atkins, executive director and CEO of Disabled Citizens Alliance for Independence, an independent living center located in Viburnum, will speak at Mineral Area College’s Fourth Friday speaker’s forum at 10 a.m. April 22, in the Fine Arts Theatre on the Park Hills campus. A Q&A session will follow the event which is open to the public.
Atkins has served as DCAI’s executive director and CEO since October 2012. He holds master’s and doctoral degrees in business administration and previously worked at American Family Mutual Insurance Company for more than 34 years.
DCAI is a not-for-profit, tax exempt corporation, committed to serving the needs of people with disabilities and offers a vast array of services on a non-discriminatory basis. It was the first rural center to be funded by the United States Department of Education.
According to Atkins, since its opening in 1980, DCAI has served thousands of individuals through a variety of services that assist people in being as independent as they choose.
“We believe that independent living is understood to mean that people with disabilities have the right to control and direct their own lives and to participate actively in society,” Atkins said. “This participation may include making cultural and lifestyle choices that minimize reliance on others in decision making and in the performance of everyday activities.”
Atkins added that DCAI believes people with disabilities are only limited because of architectural and attitudinal barriers.
“Independent living includes taking risks, having the right to succeed or fail, taking responsibility for one’s decisions and actions and fulfilling a range of social roles in their home and community,” he said. “The goal of all services is to offer options for independence in the community. The fundamental concept behind Independent Living is that every person is entitled to self-determination and control of their own lives.”
Atkins has personal experience in overcoming a personal disability. In 1979, he was diagnosed with an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which has left his vision diminished to seeing only shadows in certain light conditions.
Despite his visual impairments, he has become a long distance runner, logging more than 88,000 miles and participating in 78 full marathons. He runs unassisted daily to demonstrate the importance of living your life independently.
Atkins participates in and hosts many running events for charity while raising thousands of dollars for individuals with disabilities. His passion and drive for helping others has led him to conducting motivational presentations for many organizations, schools, colleges/universities, churches, and professional groups.
Atkins added that people with disabilities are actively involved in all levels of DCAI’s operation. A majority of both the staff and board of directors have one or more disabilities.
For more information about Fourth Friday, contact Amy McKenna-Jones by phone at 573-518-2146 or by email at mjones@MineralArea.edu.
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or firstname.lastname@example.org