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Designer turns challenges into opportunities

Like most college students, Colleen Dougherty did not think much about the ability to put one foot in front of the other, or the basic mobility that youth provides to jump and hop around; that is, until a car accident resulted in severe nerve damage and mobility limitations.

After having her life physically altered, Dougherty, now 45, uses a wheelchair and has gone from being right-handed to left-handed. She says it also opened her up to strengths and opportunities she might not have otherwise discovered. Growing up, Dougherty was a recreational skier, so when she discovered an adaptive skiing program in Lake Tahoe during college, she was eager to give it a try. It was there that she met Kendall Cook, with whom she'd later co-found Oregon Adaptive Sports.

She's played an active role in the organization—which provides opportunities for people with cognitive, developmental, and physical disabilities to participate in a wide range of sports—since she returned to Bend in 2003 to train for the 2006 Paralympics in swimming.

Though she has poured countless hours into her work on the OAS board, Dougherty's primary job is as a designer and developer of what she calls "universally accessible" homes. She manages the entire process, from planning and picking out finishes, to buying the lots and managing the accounts, to creating homes that eliminate obstacles like entry steps and shower lips. She says it makes the homes more open in a way that appeals to people regardless of their accessibility needs. Dougherty studied business in college, but since the accident has found herself increasingly interested in creative pursuits. For instance, she handles the books for her work as well as the business she owns with her husband, but she also recently landed a commission with Tetherow hotels for 20 abstract paintings.

"I love being creative, whether it is in painting, home design, decorating, cooking," Dougherty explains. But at the same time, "I [also] like spreadsheets and numbers and budgeting and planning." It was those dual interests that led her to open a contemporary art studio called BICA and inspired her to start the fundraising event Bend Film Bash, with friend Sarah Murphy, to support the annual film festival.

"I like to be involved where I can. I don't let my wheelchair slow me down," Dougherty says. "It changes your life, but you don't have to say, 'Woe is me.' I just want to be like anyone else and have a good time."

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