From 2020 to 2022, our Think Differently then ACT campaign has been instrumental in driving transformative change within our community. Through this initiative, we have fostered a steadfast movement towards becoming the most disability-friendly community in the country. With unwavering determination, we have dismantled biases and empowered individuals to advocate for inclusivity. We have focused on impactful storytelling, shedding light on the experiences and triumphs of individuals with disabilities. Additionally, our efforts have extended to strategic planning, as we have begun work on our campus master plan, positioning ourselves for remarkable development and giving opportunities. By launching our Corporate Membership Program, we have invited partners to join forces with us, providing them with accessibility resources, real-time education on disability etiquette, and the chance to contribute to community investment projects. Moreover, we have established donor societies to recognize lifetime giving and honor those planning to leave a lasting legacy. The impact of our endeavors is undeniable, as demonstrated by the multitude of information and referral calls answered, the distribution of assistive tech and medical equipment to numerous consumers, and the completion of home accessibility projects, all benefiting thousands of individuals with disabilities. As we reflect on these remarkable achievements, we are fueled by gratitude and inspired to continue our pursuit of a more inclusive and empowering future.

Centennial Celebration September 2021

Centennial Celebration
Centennial Celebration
Centennial Celebration
Centennial Celebration
Centennial Celebration
Centennial Celebration
Centennial Celebration
Centennial Celebration

Hall of Fame

Edward Schmakel

Edward Schmakel

December 13, 1917 – September 28, 2005

Edward Schmakel, was born in Toledo on December 13, 1917 to Hugo and Melina Schmakel. He had an older half-brother and four younger brothers, one of whom died in infancy. He contracted polio at a very young age and attended Charles Feilbach School for Crippled Children. He graduated from Libbey High School in 1935, and from The University of Toledo in 1939. He returned to University of Toledo later in life, receiving his Masters in 1968.

In 1947, he married the love of his life, Helen Gertrude Garver. They would have two boys, Bruce and Gary.

Ed began his career with The Ohio State Department of Public Welfare before working 18 years with Graphic Arts Corporation of Ohio. He then dedicated 25 years to The University of Toledo where he held the position of Director of Alumni Relations for 20 years, and Development Director for 5 years, retiring in 1987. For the rest of his life, he held the status of Alumni Director Emeritus.

As a student, alumni, and employee of UT, Ed was a leader and advisor in numerous organizations and received countless awards and honors. Among them were Phi Kappa Psi/Sigma Beta Phi Fraternity, Blue Key National Honorary Fraternity, Phi Kappa Phi Scholastic Honorary, Mortar Board, Tower Club, Rocket Club, Blue “T”, and UT Alumni Association.

Over his life, Ed Scmakel touched and influenced thousands of lives, mostly young lives. To this day he is well-loved on campus. His portrait hangs over the Italian marble fireplace in the Schmakel Lounge, one of the university’s premiere reception locations. Additionally, UT recognized his service in 1993 by naming the Edward C. Schmakel Alumni Center in his honor.

Off campus, Schmakel was also an active civic and community leader sitting on numerous boards and commissions, including: The Ability Center, TARTA Board (President), State of Ohio Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, Masons, Downtown Coaches Association, Epiphany Lutheran Church (Chairman of Parish Education) and many others.

Ed loved gardening and spending summers at his cottage on Dewey Lake near Brooklyn, Michigan, with family and friends. Ed passed September 28, 2005.

A personal reflection from Tim Harrington:

“Ed was one of the kindest men I have ever met. As a first-year student at UT, I witnessed a person with a disability command the respect of others by his professionalism and character. He was a role model with whom we shared the love of fraternity and a lifetime of friendships in brotherhood. When tuition was tight, Ed always found a small pot of money to get me through.

Ed knew everyone in town. When I became director of the Ability Center, he became my coach. Lunchtimes with Ed would include a little “Comfort” to begin with and community connections of which a new director could only dream.

Ed and others with disabilities paved the way for individuals like me. They did it with grit and determination, covered with a charm that would disarm the most uninformed.”

Renee Wood

Renee Wood

Renee Michelle (Riddle) Wood

Born into extreme poverty, Renee Riddle, along with her younger brother and sister didn’t have enough to eat, but her mom made sure they at least had something in their stomach before bed. Poverty alone may have set Renee back, but she was also born with Cerebral Palsy, a condition which made it difficult for her to walk, talk, or use her hands. Although doctors told Renee’s mom to place her in an institution because she would “never be able to do anything for herself,” Renee’s mom said, “no” and brought her first born home.

These echoes of low expectations would plague Renee throughout her childhood and into her early adulthood, yet she refused to conform to society’s expectations for people like herself. She often caused a ruckus when she was not being treated the same as her non-disabled peers. Her first successful protest was at just 17-years-old, when she convinced her younger sister to sit with her outside the Special Ed religious classroom where she refused to enter and participate, claiming “I do not belong in there!” The priest ultimately relented, allowing Renee to be in her sister’s typical confirmation class.

After high school, Renee was given little hope when an assessment stated she had few prospects for gainful employment or living independently. Undeterred, at 19, Renee moved out of her parent’s house, and, with the help of Toledo Society for the Handicapped, moved into the YWCA, and then into her own apartment. A week after moving into the Y, she started college at the University of Toledo.

Renee’s second successful outcome against discrimination occurred when her application was approved for a summer job. When she showed up for work, they wanted to send her home. She pointed out to the employer he had not given her a chance, and it sure felt like discrimination. The next day, Renee was given a supervisory position – with a pay raise. She was fearless, challenging herself to do anything necessary to see the full potential of people with disabilities in society. This included public demonstrations of peaceful civil disobedience which a few times resulted in arrest and time in jail – often with terrible conditions. Happening before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – Renee was one of the many helping to pave the way for generations to come.

Renee holds two degrees from the University of Toledo. She landed her dream job at the Ability Center as Disability Rights Advocate, which gave her the knowledge she needed to move on to do statewide advocacy. Sharp, articulate, and able to get right to the root of a situation, Renee has admired and feared for making no exceptions to inclusion and equality for all people, especially those with disabilities. Although her physical ability was forever changed by an operation in 2003, she picked herself up, and with the assistance of her devoted husband, went on to even better things.

A born leader, she was appointed by the Governor to chair the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council – only the second person with a Developmental Disability to chair the council. Many of the changes realized under her tenure remain today. She also Chaired the Ohio Olmstead Task Force and served as a board member for both the Ohio Statewide Independent Living Council and Ability Center. The number of State workgroups Renee has been a part of numbers in the dozens. Her voice has been crucial in policies written by the State since 2010. Even while facing Stage III Ovarian cancer in 2017, and while going through chemo, and 2 reoccurrences of the cancer, Renee continued with her leadership positions, as well as her efforts to cause systemic change. It has been said, “Renee will not die in bed, but rather, sitting in her power chair testifying at the Statehouse.”

Through the years Renee’s efforts have been recognized by several awards: in 2008, she was named Lucas County Board of DD Advocate of the Year. At the 2016 Synergy conference, PAR & OSDA surprised Renee with their seldom given Synergy Award. Renee was a finalist for the 2017 Soaring Phoenix Award, and after each finalist gave their presentation, she won the award. In 2019, Molina Health Care recognized her with the Northwest Ohio Trail Blazer Award, for which she received an Official Recognition from the Ohio Senate. Finally, in 2020, The National Council for Independent Living gave her the Region V Advocacy Award.

For all these reasons, efforts, and honors, Renee Michelle Riddle Wood is being inducted into this inaugural class of the Ability Center Hall of Fame.

Alva C. Bunker

Alva C. Bunker

Arvella M. Sander

Arvella M. Sander

Edward Charles Nieshoff Jr., MD

Edward Charles Nieshoff Jr., MD

February 9, 1957

Edward Charles Nieshoff, Jr. was born Feb 9, 1957, in Carthage, Missouri, to Edward and Elizabeth Nieshoff. When in 6th grade, his family moved to the Toledo/southern Michigan area. He attended Burnham Junior High School and graduated from Sylvania High School in 1974.

Thereafter, he attended Ohio University, where he studied Zoology and Chemistry. In the spring of 1978, while spending time living on rental property in a remote area of the Hocking Hills in southern Ohio, he dove into Raccoon Creek, fracturing a vertebra in his neck, causing a spinal cord injury at the C6 level. He spent his rehabilitation hospitalization at the Ohio State Medical Center’s Dodd Hall. From the outset, his recovery was medically complex. He endured a number of serious complications and counts himself lucky to have survived.

Not dissuaded by his disability, he returned to college shortly after rehab, and after becoming acclimated to living life with a disability, he completed his undergraduate studies, majoring in Genetics at The Ohio State University. He pursued his biomedical interests further at the University of Toledo, in the graduate molecular biology program during which time he was awarded consecutive competitive appointments as a graduate teaching assistant. It was during this time that Ed began to consider medicine as a career path. He explored life precedents using the Ability Center’s Resource Library and participated in its fitness programming for the long road ahead of him. He was encouraged and supported by several prominent mentors, including William Bischoff, Ph.D., Professor of Biology at UT in the Department of Biology, and Victor Cummings, M.D., Eleanor Coughlin Chairman and Professor of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the then- Medical College of Ohio. The relatively unique perspective that a “Dr.” Nieshoff could bring to the field, his colleagues, and, especially his patients, was acknowledged by Drs. Bischoff and Cummings, and both advocated strongly for his admission to the MCO School of Medicine.

Following his subsequent acceptance to the School of Medicine, Ed asked for no substantive modifications of the curriculum: The sole accommodation he received was that recommended by the Association of Academic Physiatrists: If he were to encounter a task he was physically unable to perform, he was required to acquire the ability “to understand and direct the methodology involved.” He was thus mandated to carry the same patient load and work the same overnight schedule in the hospital on-call as his peers. He did use some assistive technology, e.g., a standing wheelchair and dynamic hand splints for cadaver dissection, and observed surgical procedures during his surgical clerkship, and participated in such procedures to the best of his ability. He was awarded his Doctor of Medicine from the Medical College of Ohio in 1991 and was invited to stay for his internship there in 1992, which he did, and subsequently was accepted into the PM&R residency at Wayne State University, which he completed in 1995. His clinical performance and double-boarded status were acknowledged during his training, such that he was appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, in the School of Medicine at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

On the clinical side of medicine, Dr. Nieshoff began his career as a staff physician running the Spinal Cord Injury Service at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan in Detroit, Michigan. Upon becoming boarded in SCI Medicine, he advanced to become the Medical Director of this service, and ultimately Director of the Spinal Cord Injury Outpatient and Research Programs at the Institute.

Over his career, Ed has been an author, researcher, and principal investigator for many grants, clinical studies, and clinical trials. He has received several awards and honors, including Physician of the Year from the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan; his peers chose him as one of the Top Doctors in America by U.S. News and World Reports, and he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wayne State University Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency Program. As Dr. Cummings foretold, Dr. Nieshoff, with his unique perspective and position as a physician living with a disability, made a significant impact on medicine, in particular the medical specialties concerned with spinal cord injury and rehabilitation.

Following his retirement from clinical practice in 2012, Dr. Ed Nieshoff continues to pursue his pharmacological research interests, and resides in Farmington Hills, Michigan, enjoying life with his wife, Aruna, whom he married in 1999, and his twin sons, Edward and Charlie.

Matt Sterling

Matt Sterling

March 8, 1969

Matt Sterling was born March 8, 1969, in Bowling Green, Ohio to Dallas and Mary Sterling. The youngest of three, Matt was diagnosed with scoliosis and arthrogryposis in his lower extremities. After multiple exploratory surgeries at Columbus Children’s Hospital, he was sent home to begin his family life. His mobility was impaired, and he used braces and crutches before transitioning to a wheelchair.

Growing up, Matt was raised like any other child, his parents found a great resource in the Toledo Society for the Handicapped (now The Ability Center). He attended the “Little Yellow Schoolhouse” kindergarten where, in addition to the basics, he learned skills like walking with crutches, opening doors, and putting on his jacket. It was a friendly place where he met kids with a variety of disabilities which made him feel like just “one of the group.” During the summers, Matt attended Camp Cricket at the Ability Center and, as a camper, participated in a variety of activities and even made his first basket on the court in the newly constructed gymnasium. He would go on to play wheelchair basketball for the Center’s team. Matt’s sister Amy also became a camp counselor and was a big part of his development in his early years. He and his brother, Tim, were Boy Scouts in their dad’s troop and had many camping adventures.

When Matt began his schooling there were two tracks in the public school system. Disabled students were encouraged to attend a specialized school apart from the able-bodied students. Given he had full mental capabilities, his parents were insistent on mainstreaming him. Due to inaccessible classrooms in the public grade schools, he attended a private grade school at the convent at St. Francis. Once he graduated to 7th grade, he entered McCord, the local, more accessible public school.

The family moved to Florida when Matt entered 8th grade. There, he attended the local public school. In high school, he flourished socially and was elected Class President three of the four years at Bayshore in Bradenton. (Would have been all four but for a one year stop over for his Junior year in Cocoa Beach, where his dad was completing construction on NASA’s Rocket Booster Recovery Station.)

Matt received the Walt Disney “Dreamers and Doers” award and delivered the address at his high school graduation in 1987. He was accepted to the University of Florida and holds a Bachelor of Science in Advertising. During his time at UF, Matt played wheelchair basketball with the North Florida Renegades and learned to play wheelchair tennis from his friend Craig Swanson, a decorated Vietnam veteran who served in the USMC.

After an exploratory trip to New York City to network with executives, Matt accepted a position as a Media Planner at LINTAS – an ad agency that handled IBM, Sara Lee, and Johnson & Johnson, among others. After a few years on the agency side, Matt accepted a job at TIME Magazine. During his 20+ years with Time Inc. as a sales and marketing executive, Matt traveled around the world several times and lived in NYC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

While in LA, Matt met his wife, Carrie Lane, who holds a BA from Princeton, a PhD. from Yale and is a tenured professor at Cal State Fullerton in American Studies. They have traveled together to Canada, Mexico, and South Africa. They have a 7-year-old son, Frank, who is showing interest in soccer, baseball, and science.


We began in 1920 with a mission to help children. Many of the children were not welcomed in mainstream schools. Most also had not received proper health care. We played an important role as part of an innovative movement to help children get what they needed. Our 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. We served thousands of young people in our hospitals until the late 1950’s, when the Salk Polio vaccine greatly impacted our need. Our hospital closed in 1963 and our focus on shifted to education.

Our organization transformed into a preschool and kindergarten for children with disabilities, offering an inclusive education until the mid-1970’s At this time, schools began welcoming students off all abilities in mainstream schools. In response to this change, we evolved into a service agency for people of all ages and disabilities. During the push for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we became a Center for Independent Living, and changed to our current name, The Ability Center.

Today, we empower people of all ages and all abilities through core services focused on consumer choice and increased independence. As we begin our second century, we continue to grow and develop, addressing the needs of the 21st Century. We invite local businesses leaders and community members to engage with us and help us get closer to our goal of becoming the most disability-friendly community in the country.

1920 – 1960

A Rotary Dream

For 100 years, The Ability Center’s mission has been to support people with disabilities. Programs have adapted to remove current barriers to independent living for people with disabilities in northwest Ohio.


The Toledo Society for Crippled Children is established by The Rotary Club to raise funds to build a hospital and rehabilitation facility for children with polio.


A portion of a bequest from the Edward Drummond Libbey estate is used to modify the “Old Ladies Home” on Central and Collingwood to create the first hospital and convalescent home for children with disabilities. It serves as a temporary space as the Society raises funds for a permanent facility.


The Opportunity Home opens thanks to the balance of the gift from the Edward Drummond Libbey estate and strong community support. The hospital is located in what is now Lake Erie Academy on Central Avenue.

1937 – 1960

We serve the area as a hospital, which includes a school for children recovering from polio, until the arrival of the Salk vaccine in the mid-1950s.

1960 – 1990

Transforming with the Times

From 1960-1990, dedicated disability rights activists were successful in establishing federal laws to ensure that people with disabilities had the right to an education and to community inclusion.


A dedicated shift to education transforms the facility into Opportunity Kindergarten, a school for children with disabilities. The school is housed in the Libbey House in the Old West End.


Public school policy legislation welcomes students of all abilities into mainstream schools. The Ability Center evolves again and begins serving adults with disabilities as well as children. The name changes to Toledo Society for the Handicapped.


The movement to create a nationwide network of independent living centers migrates to northwest Ohio. The Board of Trustees changes our mission to become a Center for Independent Living, one of over 500 across the country.


After decades of campaigning, the Americans with Disabilities Act is passed. The Toledo Society for the Handicapped becomes The Ability Center of Greater Toledo.

1990 – 2019

Independent Living Movement

With the advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act and a national network of Centers for Independent Living, the focus of The Ability Center moves towards providing core services of advocacy, information and referral, independent living skills training, peer supportand mentoring, and transition.

1990 – 2019

The Ability Center serves seven counties via its main office in Sylvania, OH, and a satellite office in Bryan, OH. Programming aims to create greater independence and stronger connection to the community.

Support and information are provided to community organizations and businesses to offer inclusive programs and services to all citizens.


The Next Century of Service

Through the Disability Dialog campaign we pose the question, “What would it take to make our community the most disability friendly in the country?”

Thoughtful discussions are organized by different community groups in response to our inquiry.


Innovative initiatives are unveiled to highlight our rich history of service, evolution as an agency, and role in creating the most disability-friendly community in the country.