Access Living empowers disability groups

January 1, 2012 7:27:46 AM PST
Empowerment among the disabled community is growing as advocates voice their concerns for social change.

Chicago's Access Living supports a number of grassroots groups ranging from youth leadership to housing.

Time has changed for members of the disability community, according to community organizer Adam Ballard.

"Almost every social change that has happened to this country has happened because of strong organizing," Ballard said. "The same is true for our community. The passage of the American's with Disabilities Act, the ADA passage and implication of the Rehab Act all happened because of strong organizing in our community."

For more than 20 years, Access Living has been supporting grassroots leaders with disabilities. They currently have six groups that are led by consumers with disabilities.

"We have an organization that focuses on housing issues," Ballard said. "That's DRACH, Disabilities Rights Action Coalition for Housing.

"We have an organization that focuses on disability employment issues, That's Disabled Americans Want to Work Now.

"We have an organization that focuses on youth issues?

"Even in youth issues, there's a need for a focus on women and girls so that's why we have the Empowered FE FES that focus on issues specific to young women and girls with disabilities.

"We also have a new group call Cambiando Videas, which reaches out to Spanish speaking people with disabilities and their community."

Zorytza Rodriguez is a member of Cambiando Vidas.

"We do training to change lives with students and people and get people leadership," Rodriguez said.

Housing is a big issue for people with disabilities. Karen Robinson is very active in DRACH.

"We had a campaign where we were trying to get CHA to lower the age for Senior Housing for 55 to 62 on down because we didn't feel that it was fair that anyone with a disability that was between the age of 18 to 55 were eligible for senior housing but those past 55 were not and it wasn't fair so we won that and were quite proud of it," Robinson said.

Ballard said 2011 was a great year for grassroots groups.

"We saw a campaign 'Disabled American's want to Work Now' had with the state of Illinois that led to IQ testing as part of vocational placement becoming optional instead of something that counselors could just administer arbitrarily.

"Our youth saw a big victory with the closing the soon closing of a nursing home on the north side that served young people with developmental disabilities and they were dying due to neglect and abuse."

This year, they have high hopes, as FE FES member Marguita Foreman said.

"To stop the bullying in Chicago Public Schools because I was bullied when I was in grammar school and high school," Foreman said.

"We would like to have a bigger outreach for people with disabilities to join DRACH team as well as other groups that are among Access Living," Ballard said. "We are trying to get a lot more veterans involved with us as well."

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