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Al DeGraff
Reprinted from PN March 2002
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At age 18, Al DeGraff dove into the ocean and broke his neck. More than 30 years later, his active and independent lifestyle is evidence that he continues to dive right in!

The mission of his four successful careers has been to make the disability lifestyle easier for others. When he isn't writing and publishing, DeGraff travels extensively to provide presentations, lectures, and seminars.

Raised in small-town upstate New York, DeGraff worked on Martha's Vineyard, a resort island, for the transitional summer between high-school graduation and entering college. The year 1967 meant the "summer of love" for the nation, and the summer of dramatic lifestyle change for this 18-year-old.

In mid-morning on July 4, DeGraff dove off an ocean pier into a huge incoming wave that was deceptively shallow because of low tide. His neck snapped as his head hit the sandy bottom, and he was instantly paralyzed below the shoulders.

George Snyder

After 14 months of inpatient acute care and rehabilitation, DeGraff attended three college and university campuses and earned graduate degrees in the administration of higher education. This qualified him to become the first director of the Department of Disabled Student Services at Boston University (BU). As a student, he had struggled with poor wheelchair access at campuses; now he vowed to cut accessible paths through the BU campus and surrounding city.

During his ten years in Boston, DeGraff lectured about accessibility at other campuses throughout the country. He co-authored a book on accessible-campus construction guidelines. His professional peers elected him president of the Association for Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), an organization of administrators at more than 1,000 campus programs serving students, staff, and faculty with disabilities.

DeGraff began taking notes on finding, hiring, and managing help providers. His first book on this subject was published in 1978, and national demand quickly depleted two printings.

Feeling career burnout in a city known for its aggressive drivers, DeGraff sought wheelchair-accessible aerobic exercise equipment. When he found none on the market, he began designing a tabletop, arm-powered exercise cycle he could use independently. He and his wife Peggy moved to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he spent 18 months in the design, prototype, patent, and initial manufacturing of the Saratoga Cycle.

During those initial 18 months, DeGraff also served as CEO of two independent-living centers. One facility served consumers with developmental disabilities, and the other provided transitional living for adults with physical challenges.

At this time, he also refined his notes on hiring help providers and began researching ways to prevent burnout of overworked family caregivers. He began teaching formal 16-week courses that showed people how to find and manage their help providers. In the years since his injury, he estimates he employed more than 350 personal assistants (PAs) after interviewing some 1,500 applicants.

In 2001, after directing the worldwide distribution of the Saratoga line of fitness equipment and accessories for 13 years, DeGraff sold his corporation to devote his time to writing and publishing his book's third edition. To promote the 512-page Caregivers and Personal Assistants: How to Find, Hire and Manage the People Who Help You (Or Your Loved One), which has been completely rewritten, he plans to travel extensively. He will lecture, write, and otherwise further PA management skills, independence, and overall empowerment.

Contact: Saratoga Access Publications, Inc., P.O. Box 1427, Fort Collins, CO 80522-1427. (970) 484-5595 / 484-5531 (fax) / www.saratoga-publications.com / mailbox@saratoga-publications.com. ----------------------------------------------------------------------

George Snyder

After six years as American Wheelchair Bowling Association (AWBA) executive secretary/treasurer, George Snyder has retired—again—and plans to spend some time in his shop, doing what he likes most: wood turning.

Snyder's father and grandfather were tool-and-die makers, and he inherited many of their abilities to invent and work with machines. Before joining the U.S. Navy, he attended a vocational school where he took machine-shop classes and learned how to run lathes, milling machines, metal shapers, and planers.

Leaving the Navy due to a spinal-cord injury, Snyder again took an interest in working with tools. He made several devices and adaptations that enabled him to hold the implements for leatherwork.

When he moved to Florida, Snyder built a workbench in his two-car garage, where he did odd jobs and repairs for his home. Becoming involved in wheelchair bowling, he invented a ball holder that attaches to wheelchairs. The device holds the ball while the bowler maneuvers at the foul line. Over the years, he has made and sold more than 2,000 of them.

Then Snyder's collection of tools and machinery became more than he could store and use in his home garage. When he kept tracking dust, dirt, sawdust, and metal shavings into the house, his wife Misako suggested he move to a shop away from their residence. But because of his involvement with the Paralyzed Veterans Association of Florida (PVAF) and other community agencies and activities, he spent only weekends in his new 300-square-foot shop.

As a member of the Sunshine Wheelchair Athletics Association Board of Directors, Snyder was responsible for acquiring wooden throwing clubs for quads. The only place he could find them was England, and the cost was $50 each, plus shipping. Upon joining the local Gold Coast Woodturners group and attending several meetings, Snyder soon learned how to use a wood lathe and in no time was making these clubs.

The woodturners' group had a collection of videotapes showing how to use the lathe and make different projects. Not organized, the tapes sat in a box in the meeting room. Snyder volunteered to be videotape librarian, so he took 30 tapes home and watched them all. After that, he had 30 hours' experience, and the club had a library system of cards describing the videos.

Soon, Snyder's 300-square-foot shop became too small, and he moved to one double the size. He shares this new space with Lee Sky, a wood-turners' club member who works as a handyman.

Most of Snyder's time in his shop is spent turning the logs and other wood he has collected, dried, and aged for the past several years. He gives away his completed projects but hopes to become good enough to sell the wood items he makes.

He also has designed a device that allows someone with weak hands to make boxes without hanging the tool over the tool-post. Its cost is $35 plus $5 for shipping.

Contact: George H. Snyder, 6264 North Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309.

 

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