The Courage HANDI-HAM System was "born" in Rochester, Minnesota in 1967; the idea of Ned Carman, W0ZSW. Ned worked for a clinic, and, in the course of his work, would visit people with severe physical disabilities. As he spoke with his clients, who often had few opportunities to leave their homes, he realized that Amateur Radio would be the perfect hobby for them. Here was a hobby that could open a window to the world! A person with the most severe disabilities could stand as an equal with fellow hams in the world of Amateur Radio!
Ned enlisted the help of a group of local nuns, the Sisters of St. Francis, on April 30, 1967. Although their first action was as weather watchers during a thunderstorm that passed through Rochester that day, the Sisters were committed to helping Ned with his new project, and several received their licenses. Among them was Sister Alverna O'Laughlin, WA0SGJ, the former Educational Coordinator for the HANDI-HAM System, now retired.
The first HANDI-HAM was Edna (Eddy) Thorson, N0YL, who took her General Class license exam in December, 1967.
Very soon the Rochester Amateur Radio Club, and a little later the PICONET of South Eastern Minnesota took up the torch of service that Ned had lighted. Word of the HANDI-HAM System spread rapidly throughout southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.
By 1969 it was very evident that the expansion of HANDI-HAM services could not continue without some rather substantial financial support. This support came from the non-profit Minnesota Society for Crippled Children and Adults (whose name would later change to "Courage Center"). The Society granted full affiliate status to the fledgling System and helped with money and equipment.
Word of the HANDI-HAM System spread throughout the Upper Midwest, then across the country, and around the world. It became impossible to continue the work of the System as a volunteer organization... Something had to be done, or HANDI-HAMS would be a victim of its own success. The answer emerged when Courage Center agreed to accept the System as a program, and in 1975 the Minnesota HANDI-HAM System merged with Courage Center to become a full service, providing help wherever there was a need.
The Courage HANDI-HAM System, now a fully-integrated service of Courage Center, is able to call on the resources of its parent organization, from accounting and counseling to rehabilitation medicine and physical therapy, in order to better serve its students and members.
HANDI-HAM stations are now in operation at Camp Joan Mier, Malibu, CA; Courage St. Croix, Stillwater, MN; Camp Courage, Maple Lake, MN; Courage North, Lake George, MN; and at Courage Center in Golden Valley, MN. Radio Camp sessions and other HANDI-HAM services serve members from everywhere in the United States and around the world. Members learn radio, electronic theory, and computing, but they also learn that they can accomplish what they set out to do!
Ned Carman is a silent key, but the Courage HANDI-HAM System's headquarters station bears his callsign, W0ZSW, and an organization of volunteers and paid staff carries on his good work of sharing Amateur Radio with people who have physical disabilities.