Building Ramps, Building Lives with Mark Brisbane

Mark Brisbane is a husband, father, and mentor to those with physical disabilities in the Gainesville community. At CIL, Mark serves as a consumer specialist for the Wheelchair Ramp Program, which builds home access ramps. He also teaches Peer Support classes on how to live more independently with physical disabilities. Our ramp program runs throughout the year and we maintain a database for all wheelchair ramp requests. As we have limited resources, staff continually writes grants and conducts other fund raising activities so that fewer people have to be placed on the waiting list.

SPEAKERS: Mark Brisbane, Tony Delisle

Tony Delisle  00:50

And welcome to another edition of The Independent Life. I am so excited for us to talk to Mark Brisbane, our consumer specialist, who among many of the different hats that he wears, manages our wheelchair ramp building program known as ‘Building Ramps, Building Lives’. This is a wheelchair ramp program that we put out there for people who are in need of wheelchair ramps. And I’m going to have Mark talk a lot about what this program does and who it serves. But I want to start, Mark with asking you, why do we have a wheelchair ramp building program? Why is this program important?

Mark Brisbane  01:32

I told you yesterday, man to really solve the folks in the community here that have disabilities they can’t afford to purchase around there. They can be pricey. But it’s important because a lot of these folks live in rural areas and within the Gainesville area, you know, and again, they don’t have a lot of money, so we can provide that for them so they can have that independence, it’s vital. I’ve been doing it now going 11 years, and over these 11 years we have served some of the most dire need, people in dire need. They didn’t think they have enough that they would have an option but to the Center for Independent Living here in Gainesville, they had that option. It does take steps it does take time to get that ramp. But I would, I would say it’s a very vital part of what we do. Being a wheelchair user myself, I know with having that, it’s a security for people, they can reach out to us. Yeah, granted, it may take a while to get that ramp but it’s at some point they will receive that ramp so they can become more independent and they can be a part of, you know the society and get out into the community and do the things they couldn’t do before. So yeah, I would say having a ramp program to the CIL, the Center for Independent Living is very vital.

Tony Delisle  02:56

So Mark, take me into what it would be like to be a person who uses a wheelchair and cannot leave or enter their home. What does that do to a person who uses a wheelchair and does not have a wheelchair ramp to access their home or leave their home?

Mark Brisbane  03:16

Man, there’s so many moving parts I can, you know, being a Gainesville resident now and being a member of the team at the Center for Independent Living. I’ve lived it firsthand because I’m a C5 and C6 quadriplegic now more than 37 years. A lot of depression comes into that long isolation. You got to depend on people daily to go in and out of your home. It’s um, you already have lost the use of your legs basically, and you can’t get up to walk up and down stairs to go in and out of your home to get in your car or your truck and go somewhere. You’re relying on your wheelchair now, which is wheels. Its this deep, dark isolation, isolated feeling. And once you receive that ramp like I did, when I first bought my home when I lived up in Hamilton County, you know, I relied on my brother to get me in and out of there for weeks, months on end. And if he wasn’t there, I had to stay in something. But once I received my ramp, it’s like hey, I can go from inside of my house to the outside and get my truck and go to town or make a trip to Jacksonville. It was a huge relief. Having that independence back just by receiving a ramp. So I do the first thing how it feels not having access Tony.

Tony Delisle  04:46

So with you mentioned social isolation and loneliness I would imagine and one of the things that has come out in the in the research in recent years is showing that loneliness And social isolation is actually something that is killing people like people are dying four to five years earlier than they should be by the mere fact of being isolated and lonely, just reporting those kind of feelings of isolation and loneliness and I, and we’re recording this during the COVID pandemic. And I think more than ever, people are perhaps getting a bit of a taste of what it must be like to be isolated in their homes, to not be going out in the community to not be seen people to the level that perhaps that they were used to, before the COVID pandemic, and may be getting just a little bit of a taste of what it must be like, if you have that physical barrier and cannot get out of your house. And you mentioned having your brother there to help you get across the threshold of the doorway, I would imagine that’s probably a dangerous thing to do, right to have somebody help transition you over that threshold?

Mark Brisbane  06:03

You have very much so. Going over that going down steps, a huge fear, especially if you’re confined to a wheelchair. But I’ve experienced from personally from folks that have called me. I had a veteran a few years back that had been isolated, Vietnam vet, that isolated double amputee in his home for over a year, and how much it affected you as a human being and going through war, you know, being home and he told me that he couldn’t trust people. He didn’t want to depend on people. So he would rather have food delivered to him and just stay in his house, how much that depression etc. He didn’t want people pulling him up and down steps. He said he didn’t like that he didn’t want to have to feel like he was dependent on people and plus someone dumping the amount per se not told him I’ve been through that too the fear of that. There’s so many moving parts to it, different elements that you’re dealing with that depression you’re dealing with that having to depend on somebody it really yeah, it can affect your health. It can. I know. I know how much happier I felt once I got my ramp. How about how the relief came on me you know that I didn’t have to depend on calling someone or waiting until five o’clock until my brother came home you know by then I’m tired. I, you know I’m not going anywhere. I’ve been home all day inside, stuck at home. What’s the point going anywhere now? All those things. Yeah, that day answer your question about being isolated, in can affect your health, it can age you.

Tony Delisle  07:57

So you mentioned Yes, it is dangerous for having people assist you through the threshold. And then that you thankfully you had your brother to do that very unsafe, we don’t recommend people doing this per se, because it can put people you know who’s using the wheelchair. And, you know, for people that are transitioning them. It’s a very dangerous situation to be in risking people’s safety. And then you mentioned this veteran who did not leave his house for a year. I recall working with one of the ramp recipients that we had, a grandmother who hadn’t left her house in six months, and being told by her what it was like to not see her grandkids, her family, they would come by every so often. But it was very palpable. The heaviness of the depression that she was feeling and you know, just it was it was very concerning. And, and one of the things that I learned in working with this program and with you was another common strategy that people would use to get in or out of their home, especially the steps and I hear this being a commonly practice thing when people perhaps live in a mobile home or a trailer and having steps to go down is that they would use a piece of cardboard to throw over the steps themselves. And they would wheelchair them, you know themselves to the threshold, take themselves out of the chair, throw themselves down the cardboard, which is protecting them I guess from the stairs itself, then once at the bottom of those stairs, reaching upwards grabbing the wheelchair and then pulling it down to get out of their house. I mean, and that the fact that this is a something that’s somewhat commonly used to get out of their home is just, it’s very, very striking and sad. 

Mark Brisbane  09:51

Of course, you know, Tony, the wheelchair ramp program is my baby. I know how much it means to people. How important it is to have that program to keep it funded. People that donate I’m always, always saying donations are vital. I don’t care if it’s $10 $15 $20. You bond more to nails for somebody, you know, like the veteran I talked about. He basically said, he asked me was I lying when I told him, we’re going to help you. I don’t believe this is real. I said, Yes, sir. It’s we’re going to build your rental. And he called me back after it was completed, he said son I lost faith and hope in anybody coming through to help me out, you know, I served this country, I did three tours in Vietnam, faught in in some of the worst battles. He was telling me all this, he broke down the phone and told me, he said, I now can believe in people wanting to help others. Because you told me, You told me you were going to help. And you did what you said we will do. So I said, Yes, sir. Because I know what it means to have that ramp. I truly, I know that because I’ve been paralyzed since I was a teenager. And I’ve got other stories, you know, paraplegics telling me, man, you can relate. When I forget, I have to come out on my porch. Granted, young got my arms, I can jump down on my deck, I can get one step pull my chair down and get another step, pull my chair down. Once I get to the bottom step, then I hop in my wheelchair, from that bottom step or second step into my chair. I’m like, he shouldn’t be working too hard to go in and out your house. So that’s what we got to do what you got to do? No, you don’t. I mean, if we’re here, we can do it, we’ll do it. So that those are every day Tony every day, people are going through that.

Tony Delisle  11:46

And I want to make a point of clarification in saying that it is sad, the situation is sad, that the people that are having to go through these extremes are very brave and courageous to go through these drastic measures to leave their house very desperate situations, it’s the situations I’m referring to, they’re not the person. So Mark, you brought up the fact that like this veteran, for example, I know many other people are taken back that there’s actually a program out there that will provide wheelchair ramps for people in their situation. So maybe we can describe a little bit about well, what does this program look like? How do people get signed up for it? Who’s involved in getting these ramps built? Like, what is the actual program look like from start to finish?

Mark Brisbane  12:53

Um, typically, well, let me let me start how its funded. Just within the city of Gainesville, every year, we apply for the community development block grant money, which is not a lot, but it’s something that helps folks, we give that money, it’s it has a certain requirement for folks within Gainesville city limits, that are eligible. They have to be low income to apply, they typically will call me. There’s, um, some paperwork, income verification forms that I had to get filled out required by the city. And they’ll call our center because they see our ramp programs on our website. And they asked me, you know, Mr. Mark how do I apply to get a ramp, I’ll ask them, you know, what’s your disability, you know, what’s your income monthly, because those are the requirements. And then once I get the things that need, I have one of the contractors in Grace Methodist, Custom Design Innovations or Amway Home Improvements, set up a time to go out and evaluate exactly what that consumer may need. And then, you know, during the progress of it, you know, I’ll fill out a consumer service report, we’d goal set to start, you know, in the progress of, you know, getting them a ramp built. And I’ll stay in contact with them through the process, you know, once one of my contractors that I mentioned, goes out and evaluates, and then we get a time set up or go out to build, you know, the ramp they requested, once we deem them eligible. And through that whole process, I mean, it’s like, you can hear, I have never, not once had one consumer would be so grateful from start to finish, because it’s a relief, but that’s typically how it’s handled. If someone calls outside of the city limits in our catchment area, they go away. If we have money that’s available through our University of Florida charity campaigns we do once a year, if there’s money available, I’ll typically ask them if if it’s a dire need like they you know, cannot access in and out of your home via mobile home. If we had the funding I’ll get a contractor to give me an estimate and if one of our guys in Gainesville he doesn’t mind going to an area that’s not too far out, they’ll go build. You know, we open a cup consumer service report and with goals and try to help as many people but when it all comes down to it, there’s just not enough funding to fund everybody our waiting list has sometimes 200 250 people on that waitlist, that’s not as large as that is. That’s insane. And it doesn’t stop there. You might knock one or two, maybe three off of there, but then it’s it’s gonna get just got to keep reloading because they’re just not enough funding out there to help everyone in our 16 County catchment area and it makes me sad. More than sad, when I got to tell someone we don’t have the funding, you know, I’ve got to start digging and trying to find resources for so yeah, it’s Yeah, it can be really depressing.

Tony Delisle  16:31

Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that because that is something that we you know, take home with us and in our hearts the it’s great that we’re able to serve the 15-20 people, you know, that we can a year say through like you said the funding from the city of Gainesville or through other fundraising capacities, donations. But the fact is, that unfortunately, there are so many people out there living in poverty that cannot afford a ramp that have mobility issues just cannot get in and out of their home. And so I almost like see the way this program operates in kind of the head the hand the heart, the head You know, you be in somebody that’s getting your head around these kind of things you know, being able to to get people on a list to triage that list in terms of importance, connecting them with the people to get the the ramps built and, and the goal set and there’s usually other needs that we can also wrap other services around. And so thankfully, you know, a big part of what you do is kind of getting your head around all these different moving parts and connecting dots. The, the hand being like you mentioned, you know, Custom Design Renovations, Grace Methodist, and Amway you know, these are wonderful contractors who are licensed, have workers comp, can do a rendering know the ADA specifications, and often are doing this free of labor on time that they have off. Instead of spending it with their families on weekends, when they barely have any time off as it is, they’re out there building wheelchair ramps for people who are in need. So so that’s the that’s definitely that that part of it and, and obviously, everyone’s got the heart in this, the feelings, the why that’s in there. And it kind of also ties into blood, sweat, and treasure. You know, we need people out there that are going to, you know, do the work, to do the sweat, but the treasure as well. You know, whether that’s, you know, people making donations to our center, so that we can get these ramps built, or if people have materials, like often it’s the materials that we need the most. Again, you know, we have good kind hearted people, and even volunteers that we can throw their way to get these ramps built. But the money goes into the materials and the materials that are needed for a wheelchair ramp, just by the wholesale cost, it’s not uncommon that there’ll be words of $2,000. $1500, just to make sure that they’re they’re built to code that they have the ADA specifications, you know, many of them have to be very long and extended because of barriers. You know, again, there’s so many different moving parts to this program that you serve there, Mark.

Mark Brisbane  19:19

History has told me  and I want to add to it. You know, we talked about stories, so people fully understand when I came here from Hamilton County and started doing the ramp program for the Center for anything. One of the first and I’ve never forgotten and it really struck home with me when I’m dealing with people when I’m you know, only into the future and up to today was I got a call from a student in Santa Fe Community College, requested a ramp sent at the time. Christian’s concern when community was doing, they were doing a large portion of our building, and I sent the guy out there. He sends retired To evaluate a render what you know was needed there. He called me and he said, I just lived. One of the saddest situations I’ve ever seen in my life. A lady opened her front door, someone had stacked cement blocks for her to go in and out of their mobile home. She stepped out of out of the blocks, and they give one she’s eighty years old, and fell out of her home. And I mean, this guy broke down on the phone. That never left me. And this is my 11th year of doing this. And every time that I do a round, she comes across my mind. Eighty years old, man, that’s somebody’s Grandma, you know, no family, no one seen about her, but a little freshman, Santa Fe College student and going out there doing a well check on her. But you know what we got her that ramp and I meant my mind if I had to spend out of my own pocket, somebody’s grandma was gonna get that ramp, but she got it. And that was such a cherished thing, and that’s, that right there is why this program was so important to have, that people need to understand. When you give and when you donate, you just ain’t giving your money, you give it to somebody that may be someone’s grandma. So that’s how I see it, I just want to share that she come in my mind, you know, I’ll never forget. That’s why it’s important to me, Tony.

Tony Delisle  21:34

Thank you, Mark, for sharing that. And one thing that since coming here to the center working with you and working with this program, I’ve learned to become so grateful for any time, I simply walk in or out of my door. simple but profound gratitude that I have. Because I don’t have that mobility issue, I can just walk through a door. And this is something that wasn’t even on my radar that I needed to be grateful for. And I hope anyone listening here can just count their blessings every time they walk, or move through that doorway, without any issues or barriers. Because if you couldn’t, you couldn’t go to work, couldn’t go to school, go get your mail, go around the neighborhood, for a stroll or a roll or whatever it may be. Just that simple act, I find to be so profound. And I think it’s important that we’re all grateful. And that was something I didn’t even wasn’t even aware that I should be grateful for until working with you in this program.

Mark Brisbane  22:48

Words well said, Tony.

Tony Delisle  23:03

So Mark, you know, as we wrap this up, you know, I wanted to get your take on what it means to you to live the independent life. Here where we’re providing a platform to educate people on our services. But also we wanted to give a lens into the world of people with disabilities as well, and what it means to live independently. You could give us some of your thoughts on what does the independent life mean to Mark Brisbane.

Mark Brisbane  23:30

Man, it means everything because I will tell you 11 years ago, and as I said, I’ve been a quadriplegic for 37 years, I had never heard of the Center for Independent Living, and didn’t know anything about it. Didn’t know about the movement, none of it. But since I’ve been entrenched and had the blessing, and the fortunate blessing of working with great folks at the center, and there’s no words to describe it Tony. It means everything to me. So many doors have opened up for me. Since coming to Gainesville, and being able to help others that was in the same position I was in 12 years ago, didn’t have access to ways of being more independent. It is Oh man. I mean, look at me now. Father of three. Living an independent life married to a woman that she hadn’t have to put out when we live she does every day but she does. Having access to drive and then live such a fortunate blessed life. I don’t even know if I’m putting…giving The Independent Life credit enough but I can tell you right now, being wheelchair-bound like I have for 37 years, I’m living my best life at this point, even through a pandemic. But I don’t know if I’m answering it the way you wanted me to but that’s me, seeing through my lens is having that access now.

Tony Delisle  25:06

Well, Mark, you definitely answered the question very well. And I just wanted to acknowledge you, as somebody who I’ve learned and continue to learn a lot from, we really appreciate you working here at the center. You’re somebody that this is only one hat that you wear, by the way, and we’re going to have you on, again to talk about the wonderful services that you do, and just some of the wonderful insights that you have. But what I really appreciate about you, is you you speak from the heart, you are so relatable to so many different people. Yeah, I’ve seen you talk to all different kinds of people, all different kinds of ages, all different walks of life experiences, and you just seem to resonate with like, everyone, and to have that social fluency is so rare, and want to acknowledge you for for being that kind of a person. And, and having the heart in the right place and the mind in the right place, and the spirit and this attitude of gratitude that you have of wanting to give back. All the wonderful things that you have, you do have a beautiful family, you get out there you live the independent life. And we’re just so fortunate to have you a part of the family for Center for Independent Living, to be serving the people that we serve. It’s just so wonderful to know you, and to continue to get to know you better. And all the wonderful things that you do, Mark, we’re very blessed to have you at the center in our community and you’re just a wonderful human being and thank you so much for coming on here and talking about a little bit of what you do here at the center and for our community.

Mark Brisbane  26:45

Happy to, because I’m richly blessed Tony. Also have the center. So I enjoyed it. I look forward to the next one to put on my other hat. So I tease all the time to coworkers, I’m what is it a jack of all trades and a master of none, but I enjoy it. The center is is a blessed place. And I know it, I feel it. And I found my niche once I came here and anytime you can help someone small or big is a blessing. So I look forward to continue and do anything weeks, months, years ahead.

Tony Delisle  27:27

I look forward to being there with you shoulder to shoulder Mark, thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for your wisdom. For The Independent Life. Onward and upward. Y’all take care.

Amy Feutz  27:42

Thanks for listening to the independent life podcast brought to you by the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida. If you like what you hear, please rate review and subscribe. And if you know anyone who might benefit from listening, share this podcast and invite them to subscribe to for questions, suggestions, or if you have a story you’d like to share. please email us at or call us at 352-378-7474. Thanks for joining us. Until next time, support, advocate and empower each other to live the independent life.