- Associated Press - Sunday, January 8, 2017

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) - Dave Hite doesn’t like the idea that someone could be excluded from going to a place or event because that person might be a bit different. The Stillwater native has been in that situation, unable to enjoy things many others do on a daily basis. Hite knows because he was blinded in a chemical accident 15 years ago when he was 49.

Natalea Watkins is a go-getter whose friends describe her as a highly intelligent person with unwavering hustle. Yet, she also knows what it’s like to be excluded. Now retired but incredibly active, the former assistant vice president for communications at Oklahoma State University has been wheelchair-bound since a car wreck in 2000 left her paralyzed from the chest down.

Hite and Watkins met more than a decade ago as members of the Stillwater Accessibility Awareness Board, a task force that helped the city with ADA standards. The two would go around town checking intersections, crosswalks or buildings for compliance - Hite for white cane safety and Watkins for wheelchair access.

“We went lots of places together,” he said. “She really helped me get a visual aspect of (Stillwater).”

Watkins said though Hite can’t drive, once he gets into town there isn’t anywhere he can’t go with a white cane.

Watkins often visits Hite, though often her trips are limited to staying in her car. That isn’t the case anymore. And it’s not a coincidence. Hite, who is totally blind, has built a wheelchair ramp leading to his front door. He built it completely on his own, with an exception for the painting.

Hite said he had Watkins in mind when he decided to build the ramp, and was going to make “damn sure” his place was going to be accessible to anyone. He has been on the property a little over 10 years, and it has taken about that long to complete the ramp project.

The Stillwater News Press (https://bit.ly/2iFKfQa ) reports Hite had to create a foundation of knowledge on which he could develop his sightless carpentry skills. Hite had some carpentry in his background, but he would have to learn how to do things much differently.

“I had done some carpentry. It’s never been my primary occupation,” but, he said, “all that went out the window. I had to learn how to do everything over.”

Oddly enough, Hite said his confidence grew from a present given to him by his son and daughter-in-law. About eight years ago, they bought him a miter saw. The saw had a handle, blade guard and lockable cutting surface. Hite said with the saw he could safely keep track of his hands and not risk injuring himself.

Next, he began to work on some smaller projects. He built a greenhouse by building it in sections, and then putting the sections together. He built a sidewalk and some other small shelters. He retaught himself how to be a carpenter. In a few years, he was ready to start and when this year began, he was ready to finish.

“This year was the year of the ramp,” he said.

The toughest part, he said, was dealing with the slope. Hite wasn’t going to build it if it wasn’t ADA compliant, and that means for every 1 inch of vertical rise there must be 12 inches of length.

“I managed it,” he said. “I’m proud of that.”

It wasn’t a surprise for Watkins.

“The guy’s amazing. He has built a garden that’s amazing,” she said. “Everything, like the ramp project . The things that Dave is able to do, using tools that give auditory clicks, etc., the building, all that he does down to the 16th of an inch in accuracy. It’s truly remarkable.”

Hite has also used his abilities to help others that are dealing with vision loss.

“He would work with farmers out in western Oklahoma that ended up getting macular degeneration or something and think that their life was over,” Watkins said. “Anybody that’s ever seen the work that Dave has done on his ranch, he’s able to do amazing things.”

Watkins will often take groups to meet Hite, show them his property and let them witness everything he has accomplished.

“Most people can’t even image what’s possible until they’ve seen what Dave has done,” she said.

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Information from: Stillwater News Press, https://www.stwnewspress.com

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