TOLEDO — On Dec. 20, 1920, the Ability Center began as a Toledo Rotary initiative, then called the Toledo Society for Crippled Children, to help children with disabilities.

Many of the children were not welcomed in mainstream schools. Most also had not received proper health care. The center played an important role as part of an innovative movement to help children get what they needed.

The agency became a home for these kids, supporting and encouraging them to remove social barriers caused by their disability. Because polio and similar disabilities required lengthy stays, we housed school in our hospital.

The center served thousands of young people in its hospitals until the late 1950s, when the Salk Polio vaccine greatly impacted our need. The hospital closed in 1963 and the focus on shifted to education.

The organization transformed into a preschool and kindergarten for children with disabilities, offering an inclusive education until the mid-1970s. At this time, schools began welcoming students off all abilities in mainstream schools.

In response to this change, the center evolved into a service agency for people of all ages and disabilities. During the push for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it became a Center for Independent Living, and changed to the current name, the Ability Center.

Today, core services are focused on consumer choice and increased independence. Programming is aimed at creating independence for people with all types of disabilities. Advocacy, information and referral, independent living skills, peer support and mentoring, transition, and diversion are the key focus areas of programming.

As the center begins the second century, it continues to grow and develop, addressing the current needs of the disability community.

In January 2019, the Ability Center posed the question, “What would it take for our area to become the most disability-friendly community in the country?”

It received an overwhelming response from businesses, organizations and individuals drawn to the idea of making programs more inclusive for all. This campaign brought together the broader community to offer insight and perspective on what we can do together to make our community the most disability friendly in the country.

Disability friendly describes a community that values and welcomes the potential and participation of each of its citizens and visitors – including those who live differently.

The center works to create a disability-friendly community that is inclusive, affordable, and accessible by working with partners to implement transformational solutions across six sectors including:

• Housing

• Transportation

• Education

• Employment

• Health care

• Inclusive spaces

The Ability Center services counties of Wood, Lucas, Ottawa, Fulton, Henry, Defiance and Williams.