Access Living (AL) has been a key player in taking Chicago to the level they are now for people with disabilities. But, after 30 years, there's still more work to be done.
Access Living is one of the 500+ centers for independent living in the United States and among the largest.
CEO and President Marca Bistro is one of the people who started this center.
"I look back at all the people who've been through here and the lives we've touched both our clients, our board members and our staff , it's pretty remarkable to see life change, that this little organization--not so little any more-- has had on people and on our community," Bistro said.
Access Living's advocacy and services include, youth and education, housing, personal assistant, civil rights and many more. The main focus is the rights of people with disability through consumer-driven advocacy.
Beto Barrera is the manager of community organizers. He has been working at Access Living for almost 22 years.
"I've been working in the housing area for many years, fighting against segregated housing, but more than 17 years ago, AL was in favor of group homes, which is segregated housing. But we thought that was better than a nursing home, but that was 18, 19 years ago," he said. "Integration is integration."
The majority of AL's employees have disabilities. Pearl Mathews was among the first hired.
"In 1983, I worked part-time for about eight months at AL, went away for two and a half years, came back and worked 10 years, was off year, came back worked 13 years. Now, I'm retired," she said. "I worked for housing department unit under a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist people with disabilities in finding accessible housing."
"What I like the most about working here is that it fostered the dignity of people with disabilities. Access living raised the bar," Mathews said.
"We may not be as well known as Operation Push out at the general lively of the public, but our influence is certainly felt through every way of life," said Bistro.
After 30 years of making significant inroads for Chicagoans with disabilities, there is still more to do.
"I feel that for many years we have been under the totem pole. I feel that for the past 10 years or so, we have climbed to the bottom of the totem pole so you can imagine all the work we have to do," said Bistro. "I would like to see the day that there is not a need for Access Living that, you know, we will be so integrated in part of our community that an organization like us isn't necessary, but I don't see that happening anytime soon. I think that the big thrust forward has to be in the area of economic empowerment."
"I've learned so much from Access Living and just the dignity of people with disabilities and that peer component part here at AL is wonderful, is ultimate because a newly disabled person can come here and see people with disabilities working, living doing everything in life right here," Mathews said.
After years of moving around the city, Access Living has its own building now located at 115 West Chicago Ave.
For more information, visit www.accessliving.org.