HAM Radio 101

Hams with Disabilities Gain Valuable Tools with the Courage Kenny Handiham Program

There are heaps of skills gained during the pursuit of an amateur radio license—and not only the technical kind. Sure, up-and-coming hams learn how to operate a radio, but it’s more than that. There’s the Amateur Radio Code that teaches values like patience, consideration for others, balance, and organization; you gain the support and inclusion of a strong on-air community; and you learn how to set, work toward, and achieve goals while giving back. Skills of value to everyone and made more accessible to some with the Courage Kenny Handiham Program that was established to provide tools for people with disabilities to help them become licensed hams.

The program doesn’t just show soon-to-be hams with disabilities the ropes. It provides members with life-changing assistive technology that can make a huge difference in real-world communication like blind-friendly computers or radios. Participants gain valuable STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) training and have the opportunity to participate in contests and win awards. Plus, opportunities to give back, volunteer, and help others abound. The goal is to empower members by building confidence, achievement, planning, friendship, and providing service to others.

And it all got started with Ned Carmen, W0ZSW. In 1967, Carmen worked at a clinic with people who had severe disabilities—many of whom were housebound. Carmen realized that for housebound folks, amateur radio could really be an equalizer of sorts. After all, with ham radio it’s downright easy to chew the rag with operators in other countries without ever stepping foot outside your front door. So he made it happen—but not without the help of a group of tech-savvy nuns from the order of Saint Francis who helped run the program, including Sister Alverna O’Laughlin, WA0SGJ (SK), who served as the program’s Educational Coordinator (1982-94), and others who earned licenses along the way.

With their hard work and collaboration from countless other organizations, the Courage Kenny Handiham Program has seen some downright wild success on what is now a global scale. Today, the organization is fully integrated with the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute and can offer members counseling and rehabilitation medicine or physical therapy along with ham-related operator skills, radio camps, and online learning and courses. It’s a once-small organization grown up to be a pretty big deal.

Who is eligible for membership? Anyone with a physical disability or sensory impairment like blindness is eligible along with folks with reading disabilities like dyslexia. Yearly membership costs are $150, and you can download the application to join here. And please be kind. There are currently only two staff members replying to outside requests from those of the more than 600 members served.

Visit the Courage Kenny Handiham Program website for more details on membership, to listen to the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute Handiham World E-Letter, to check out what’s happening on the Handiham Radio Club Nets, or to apply to become a program volunteer.

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