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August 22, 2006 > A mobile effort

A mobile effort

It is a busy fall afternoon. Parents and kids are shuttling to and from sports or other after-school activities, preparing meals and moving about in a complex ballet of motion that will continue until evening hours bring a respite. Throughout the hustle and bustle, most give little thought to basic body functions necessary for motion; we simply expect and receive effective responses from nerves, muscles and organs. Sometimes we consciously command our bodies to move, but mostly our brains order the activities at a subconscious level.

Imagine then a world where brain and body do not communicate properly. Mobility becomes an obstacle rather than an assumption; life changes dramatically. Fortunately, a wide variety of mechanical devices can assist those among us disabled by accident, illness or aging. Social services and other community resources may help, but there's also a group of dedicated people in Milpitas who have devised a practical tool that opens a world of possibilities to those seeking answers.

With a tag line of "empowering millions of people with disabilities," Able Project began operating in 2002, the result of "a passion of the heart" according to CEO and Founder, Paiman Komeily. He has personal knowledge of the problems of mobility, having battled muscular dystrophy since age 9. "I was always amazed at the difficulty in finding mobility products. That was the beginning of the journey."

While working with an internet company, Komeily shared his frustrations and vision with Arash Kouchesfehani, a computer programmer there. Komeily spoke of his experience when looking for a ceiling lift device to help him transfer from his wheelchair to the shower area. His situation demanded an immediate answer. However, working 16 hour days as an accountant did not leave time to shop. As a consequence, he was limited to products sold by a local distributor.

Originally conceived as a for-profit company, the business was reincarnated in 2002 as a nonprofit enterprise. Komeily says that Able Project "had the power to go beyond the profit side of the industry"- a transformation from a pure business model to a service-oriented organization with a "passion" to help others. The goals of Able Project have successfully attracted talented and highly respected people to its board of directors including IT professional Arash Kouchesfehani, occupational therapist Susan Porter, physical therapist Kyle Smith, business and networking specialist Ahmad Tehrani, marketing sciences professor Dr. Dirk Wassenaar and strategist Wallace Weeks. All have donated their talents and countless hours to making Able Project a reality.

Komeily emphasizes that without the efforts of the board of directors and an active advisory board of professionals, very little could be accomplished. It is through their time and talents that Able Project has achieved success.

Komeily also wanted to address the needs of those unable to afford the cost of mobility equipment (walkers, wheelchairs, reachers, scooters, etc.). This goal fit well with the nonprofit model and the "Giving Program," administered by physical therapist Kyle Smith, was initiated as a companion to Able Project search tools. Komeily notes that there are two ways to attract people and resources to an enterprise, either through monetary incentives or by convincing them that they will help a lot of people. One incentive appeals to the pocket, the other to the heart. Able Project was and remains a labor of love.

Although the young organization faced an upward battle for funding when competing with more established agencies, The Valley Foundation believed in the Able Project and has helped the fledgling group. Komeily says that Able Project needs additional funding to expand its operations and handle the many requests from throughout the United States for their services.

Effects of Able Project efforts are widespread. Komeily recounts a recent call for help from a contractor in New Jersey who had installed shower units for a housing project designed for disabled tenants. The shower units were subsequently found to be inaccessible by those they were designed to serve. Within five minutes Able Project directed the contractor to two manufacturers who could solve the problem. Another caller from Santa Cruz was hoping to find a powered "wheelchair" for a back surgery patient who needed to remain in a prone position. Again, Able Project found a manufacturer.

Currently the Giving Program provides free mobility products to people with disabilities in Santa Clara County. As the organization receives more funding and sponsorships from other areas, this program will expand its services to additional cities and counties. Alameda County residents may be eligible but must come to Able Project offices in Milpitas to pick up equipment. The organization knows the need is widespread and often pretty basic. As Komeily says, "Requests are not for anything fancy, just the ability to go from point A to point B."

Donations by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Sobrato Family Foundation and EHC LifeBuilder have provided office space and some storage space for Able Project. Now the challenge is to find additional sources of funding so Able Project's Giving Program can expand to include more people in need throughout the Bay Area and beyond. Storage space is already filled with donated mobility equipment, used and new, available for those in need. Equipment spans a wide range but used equipment does not include products that may raise hygiene issues such as commode or shower chairs.

Able Project is currently developing a creative approach to supplementing those who cannot afford the retail cost of equipment. They're crafting partnerships with suppliers who will provide their products at reduced pricing.

Does the public really need Able Project? The answer is found by reviewing website data. With over 112,000 visits and 1.8 million hits in 2005 increasing to 97,000 visits and over 1.4 million hits in just the first six months of 2006, the answer is obvious.

For more information, visit www.ableproject.org or call (408) 263-8000. The office is only open Tuesday and Thursday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., but phone messages and emails are answered promptly every day.

 
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