United Ability, one of Birmingham’s most treasured organizations turns 70 years old

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Photograph of the original building that housed Spastic Aid, which is now United Ability.  The building is where Top Golf  is located today. Photo courtesy of United Ability

Last week, United Ability, one of Birmingham’s most treasured organizations, celebrated its 70th birthday on August 30.

Beginning from a living room conversation among a small group of compassionate, concerned citizens, United Ability (formerly known as Spastic Aid at its founding and then United Cerebral Palsy) was established in 1948. The group’s mission back then was simple. Provide services to  medically fragile individuals with nowhere to turn for help.

One of the early children at United Ability (formerly United Cerebral Palsy). Photo courtesy of United Ability
Early device therapy. Photo courtesy of United Ability

In 1972, the nonprofit became United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham. Many longtime residents of Birmingham were first introduced  to the organization through the United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham telethon that was held annually on WBRC 6.

WBRC’s Bill Bolen and Dr. Gary Edwards, United Ability’s longtime Executive Director at the United Cerebral Palsy Telethon. Photo courtesy of United Ability

In 1982, Dr. Gary Edwards took the reins as CEO of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham and over the past 35 years dramatically expanded the organization from a roughly 25 member staff to a team of over 170 today.

In 2001, United Ability moved from their building on the north side of Birmingham to the beautiful Hand in Hand structure.  Five years later the addition of the LINCPoint building was completed.

United Ability campus. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now
United Ability main office off Lakeshore Drive. Photo courtesy of United Ability

In February 2017, the agency became known as United Ability to more accurately reflect its comprehensive services for persons with all types of disabilities and to reach more families in need.

Ribbon cutting at the United Ability playground. Photo by United Ability

Tina Shaddix, who has worked for United Ability for 39 years and is the Chief Financial Officer, describes the impact their work has on families and our community.

“I was in a grocery store one day, when a parent and a child walked up to me and asked, are you from United Ability?”

After Shaddix answered yes, the parent then said,  “I just want to thank you again for what you have done for my child and my family.  If it weren’t for you and United Ability, my child would not be in first grade this year.”

Shaddix added, “That happens all the time. It is a small example of the number of people we’ve touched over the 70 years. I can’t begin to count all the people, but we’ve touched them in small and large ways. We’ve been there, with them, throughout their entire lives. That’s what we are all about.”

Over the past 70 years, United Ability has grown to eleven programs, and in 2017, they served over 4500 children, adults, and families.

Photo courtesy of United Ability

“We have incredible people working here. They have that passion. They give everything they have, and then cry because they can’t give more,” concluded Dr. Edwards.

It is that passion and love that has made United Ability, a Birmingham treasure for the past 70 years.

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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