Living with mild cognitive and physical challenges, Anita Swart doesn’t want people to think they have to do everything for her.

She can do most things on her own.

“I have a home. I have a job. I do pretty good,” she said. “I like to be independent.”

During the week, she can be found assembling faucet components in the workshop at Jackson Developmental Services Inc. in Freeman Field. Companies such as Delta Faucet, Wal-Mart Distribution and Aisin contract with JDSI to provide work for adults with disabilities.

“Having a job is important so you can make money to buy what you need,” she said.

After work, she enjoys going home and getting out her most recent crocheting project or beads to make friendship bracelets. She sells her work at craft shows and participates in JCB’s annual Dress a Doll program. Her entries have won several awards over the years.

Besides taking care of herself, Swart also stands up for others with disabilities, teaching and encouraging them to be self-advocates, too.

Self-advocates are people who have a disability but speak on their own behalf, she said.

“They make their own decisions about what’s best for them and how they want to live their life,” Swart said.

She recently started a self-advocate group in Seymour called Involved Individuals to give people with mild to severe disabilities an opportunity to participate in social outings and learn more about self-advocacy.

The group has about a half-dozen members and recently went to dinner and a movie. Without such activities, Swart said, some people wouldn’t get to experience anything fun outside the workshop or living in a group home.

“That’s all they know,

but anyone can be a self-

advocate,” she said. “Even if they are nonverbal, they can learn to use sign language to speak for themselves.”

Swart is learning sign language, too, to be able to communicate with even more clients.

Having been involved with a similar self-advocacy group when she lived in Columbus, Swart decided she wanted to be able to share her experiences and knowledge with her friends and co-workers

in Seymour.

“There had been a self-advocates group here before, but it died out because it really wasn’t very organized,” she said. “Because I’m high-functioning, they said I was the only one who could pull it off.”

She hopes to see Involved Individuals grow so she can apply for grant money and do more in the community.

“I want people to know who we are and what we are about,” she said. “I also want the clients to branch out and learn what they can do for themselves and out in the community.”

Swart said that four years ago she helped a friend in Columbus get a job as a janitor and find a place to live close by so he could walk to the job. She even helped him get donated furniture and appliances because he couldn’t

afford them.

Helping other people has always been important to her, Swart said, because she has had people help her along the way.

“My mom helped me learn to read and crochet,” she said. “And I’ve been lucky to have such nice people in my life that want to see me succeed.”

During its annual awards banquet Nov. 13, Developmental Services Inc. recognized Swart’s involvement and dedication to self-advocacy by presenting her with its Consumer Achievement Award.

Swart said she was

shocked to receive the

award but felt honored to even be considered.

“I felt proud of myself and very pleased,” she said.

As part of her self-advocate efforts, Swart has served on the Human Rights Committee for both DSI and Archer Services, providing input and suggestions that positively affect other individuals with disabilities.

Through a grant from the state Family and Social Services Administration, Swart provides services to The Arc of Indiana by conducting interviews with residents of group homes as part of the agency’s My Life-My Choice program.

She collects information about her peers, including food choices, how often they visit with family and friends, work and spending money, which then helps determine if they are good candidates to move into more independent living accommodations.

Lora Patrick, program manager at JDSI in Seymour, said Swart is the perfect example of what all people should strive to be.

“She is a great advocate for herself and other clients,” Patrick said. “She is assertive, outspoken and truly cares about people.”

Swart is someone the other clients look up to,

she added.

“She is very well-respected by her peers and by the staff here,” Patrick said.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Anita Swart” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Name: Anita Swart

Age: 55

Home: Seymour, formerly of Columbus

Occupation: Works at Jackson Developmental Services Inc. in Seymour, which contracts with Delta Faucet, Wal-Mart Distribution and Aisin to provide work for people with disabilities

Accomplishments: Recently received DSI’s Consumer Achievement Award for her work as a self-advocate and in standing up for others with disabilities.


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