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Perry County Students Improve Accessibility at Local Park Through UK's CARAT-TOP Program

Video provided by The University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health (UK CERH).

Video produced by The University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health (UK CERH). To view captions for this video, push play and click on the CC icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. If using a mobile device, click on the "thought bubble" in the same area.

HAZARD, Ky. (July 5, 2022) Students from Perry County Central (PCC) High School have been busy this summer at the Perry County Park completing projects to help make the park more accessible for people impacted by disabilities. The group of 17 students is the first cohort to complete an eight-week training in Coordinating and Assisting the Reuse of Assistive Technology: Together One Priority, known as CARAT-TOP,.is a new intergenerational training program created by the University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health (UK CERH) and the Kentucky Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Network (KARRN). It brings together students of all abilities from local high schools and the community to learn new skills to help individuals and communities impacted by disability. 

During the spring semester, students participated in learning activities to increase their knowledge about accessibility, assistive technology and devices, universal design, how to approach leaders in the community, and how to create real-life solutions. Next, the students turned their attention to identifying a community location where they could use their new knowledge to make a difference. The students chose Perry County Park, divided into groups and set to work examining the park for opportunities to improve accessibility at the mini-golf course, pool area, playground and picnic shelters. Students presented their proposed projects to the Perry County Fiscal Court for consideration. The projects received approval from the Perry County Judge Executive Scott Alexander and funding from the CARAT-TOP grant, given by the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities, giving the students the green light to move forward.

The group that chose the playground area worked to remove the barrier wall in two sections of the playground and install rubber tiles for wheelchair access. The miniature golf group painted the edges of the course to improve perception of depths and sidewalk edges, and added flags with led lighted poles and beepers so that individuals with visual and hearing impairments can better access the course. The group that selected the pool area painted the edges of the pool to assist swimmers who have visual impairment. They also lowered one side of the entry desk to a height that will enable anyone using a wheelchair to access forms or payment, and create a wheelchair accessible entrance into the area. The final group chose the picnic shelter area, where they identified the need for wheelchair-accessible benches and painting the edges of the entrance.

Perry County Judge Executive Scott Alexander said that park improvements like these have been on the radar of county leaders and they are excited to have students involved.

The students were recognized near the end of the school year during a special event where they received certificates for completing the CARAT-TOP program. Students also provided walking tours to those in attendance, including elected leaders, school officials, parents, and CARAT-TOP organizers from the UK CERH.

Alexander and other officials in attendance, including State Sen. Brandon Smith and State Rep. Chris Fugate, praised the group of students for taking on such an important initiative to put projects in motion that will benefit the entire community and have lasting impact. 

“CARAT-TOP was specifically created to empower the next generation to be change agents in their community. Seeing that the certificate ceremony was all for them initially boggled their minds," said Patrick Kitzman, Ph.D., professor in the UK College of Health Sciences. "However, by the end I think they were able to begin seeing in themselves what we all have seen; that they are important, relevant and capable of making real change in their community,"

“The first year of CARAT-TOP has been so inspiring as our youth and community partners learn from each other to identify, plan and implement ideas to improve our community for people of ALL abilities." said Fran Feltner, Ph.D., director of the UK CERH. "I was impressed by how our youth are becoming the leaders of tomorrow. Great things can and will happen.”

The CARAT-TOP program will be expanded in the near future to provide opportunities not only for students at PCC, but also for students at Buckhorn High School and Hazard High School. As CARAT-TOP continues to grow, future participants will have the opportunity to learn even more skills, including how to refurbish used medical equipment, adapt toys and other assistive technology devices, prototype new parts and develop strategies for engaging community stakeholders including leaders, businesses, faith communities, local media and others.

For more information about CARAT-TOP, contact Keisha Hudson, Rural Project Manager at UK CERH, keisha.hudson@uky.edu or 606-439-3557. 

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About Coordinating and Assisting the Reuse of Assistive Technology:  Together One Priority (CARAT-TOP)

CARAT-TOP is a 10-week intergenerational training program created by the University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health and the Kentucky Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Networks to bring together students of all abilities from local high schools and the community to learn new skills to help individuals and communities impacted by disability.  In addition to the 10-week intergenerational training program, CARAT-TOP also includes: Project CARAT, a medical equipment refurbishing and reutilization program; Toys with a Purpose: Adapted Toy Lending Library; and a workforce development internship/apprenticeship program.

About the University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health

The University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health was established by state legislation in 1990 to address health disparities in rural Kentucky and the unique challenges faced by our communities. The mission was and still is today to improve the health and well-being of rural Kentuckians. For more than two decades, the center has partnered with communities, providers, students and individuals to provide health professions education, health policy research, health care service and community engagement toward reaching this mission.

About the Kentucky Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Network

The Kentucky Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Network (KARRN) is a collaborative team that advocates to empower communities impacted by disability. Established in 2008, this community-engaged network has investigated and developed strategies to reduce disability and improve quality of life for individuals with neurological impairments (spinal cord injury (SCI), brain injury (BI), stroke, etc.) living in underserved and impoverished rural Appalachian counties. Under the umbrella of KARRN is the Physical Therapy student-run Project CARAT (Coordinating and Assisting the Reuse of Assistive Technology). The University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health is pleased to be a long-standing partner of KARRN and Project CARAT.

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