Chicago's Access Living got 10 year start on ADA

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Access Living has been at the forefront in that struggle for equality.

Living with a disability in the 1970s was like living in a third-world country she knows, Marca Bristo says. She uses a wheelchair.

"In my own case, I lost my job. I lost my home because it had seven stairs. I had no way to get around. I lost my income. I lost my health insurance," Bristo, CEO of Access Living, said.

That led Bristo and other disabled people in Chicago to begin fighting for changes and basic human rights long before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was even signed into law.

"So it really was the coming together of people with disabilities with shared experiences all the round the country that galvanized us into a force to be reckoned with," Bristo said.

Bristo said back then it certainly wasn't easy starting a movement. There were no emails or fax machines. It was just word-of-mouth from people for whom it was all very personal.

"Many of us couldn't see, couldn't hear, couldn't walk, couldn't talk and so there were a lot of barriers against us being able to do this. But it was the fact that it needed to be done and only we could tell our story," Bristo said.

Their determination led to Access Living, which began 10 years before passage of ADA. The community-based social services and social change agency has been fighting for the disabled community for 35 years now. One person at a time, one need at a time.

"They have historically included long-term care, healthcare access, civil rights implementation, education and youth development. So the things that the average person may take for granted, we're' here to help show people what the resources are and to teach people how to use them so that they can pursue whatever their life dreams are," Bristo.

Now, as they celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ADA, Chicago's Access Living is intensifying its local focus on getting disabled people out of Illinois institutions.

"So we help them find housing. We set up their home, take them shopping for the first time, teach them what it's going to be like to live in the community, connect them into other programs and support centers and get them on the road to building a life," Bristo said.

As part of the ADA anniversary celebrations, small delegations from other countries will be coming to Chicago to learn about the work of our very own Access Living, hoping to take that knowledge back home to help their people.

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