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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Chicago Coalition Marks ADA's 25th Anniversary With New Yearlong Initiatives

In light of the Americans with Disabilities Act's 25th anniversary on Sunday, Progress Illinois profiles new initiatives being spearheaded by "ADA 25 Chicago." The Chicagoland coalition is working to improve access, equality and opportunity for people with disabilities in the areas of education, employment, community inclusion and technology.
nice article from Progress Illinois, by Ellyn Fortino | July 27, 2015

It's been 25 years since the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act was put in place, and more than 160 Chicago-area advocacy groups, government agencies, cultural institutions and businesses have joined forces to develop new programs aimed at expanding opportunities for local residents with disabilities.
The coalition, which formally launched in mid-April, is called ADA 25 Chicago. The group's goal is to improve access, equality and opportunity for people with disabilities throughout the Chicago region in the areas of education, employment, community inclusion and technology.
ADA 25 Chicago's lead sponsor is the Chicago Community Trust, and coalition partners include the disability rights group Access Living, the Chicago Public Schools, the Goodman Theatre, the Illinois Department of Human Services, Motorola Mobility Foundation, PACE, Rush University Medical Center and Walgreens, to name a few.
Emily Harris is ADA 25 Chicago's executive director. She said the coalition is working to "shine a spotlight both on all of the benefits of the ADA, but also on the work that remains."
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law July 26, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, people with disabilities gained a plethora of life-enhancing protections.
The law prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities and mandates access to state and local public entities and accommodations as well as services from the telecommunications industry, which must accommodate deaf or hard-of-hearing consumers.
While significant strides have been made over the past 25 years regarding disability rights, coalition leaders say the disability community still faces many challenges, including disparities in employment, income and educational attainment.
Over 1.4 million Illinoisans reported having at least one disability in 2013, according to the latest disability status report for the state, which was compiled by Cornell University's Employment and Disability Institute. That figure represents 11 percent of the Illinois population.
Some 37 percent of working-age people with a disability in the state were employed in 2013, the most current year of available data. By comparison, 77 percent of people without a disability in Illinois were employed that year.
The median annual income in 2013 was $40,300 for a full-time Illinois worker with a disability. It was $47,400 for a full-time Illinois worker without a disability.
When it comes to educational attainment, 15 percent of working-age people in Illinois with a disability had at least a bachelor's degree in 2013, compared to 36 percent of working-age people without a disability.
Access Living's CEO Marca Bristo, who co-chairs ADA 25 Chicago's steering committee, spoke to some of these statistics.
"The ADA drastically transformed the lives of people living with all kinds of disabilities -- both visible and invisible -- but many improvements are still needed," Bristo said in a statement. "This milestone anniversary is an opportunity to ignite progress toward overcoming the remaining hurdles for the next 25 years and beyond."
ADA 25 Chicago is working on several "legacy projects" that "could move the Chicago region into a place of even greater inclusion in the next 25 years," Harris said.
Last week, the coalition officially kicked off one such legacy project, the Leadership Institute for People with Disabilities. The institute, said by coalition officials to be the first of its kind, will provide leadership training for people with disabilities in the Chicago region and open pathways for them to obtain leadership positions in the private, public and non-profit sectors.
The institute is meant to promote greater disability diversity in leadership roles and make it easier for companies, non-profits and governments to connect with qualified individuals for the positions.
"We've gotten a lot of really powerful and positive feedback both from public officials, heads of non-profits and others who are looking for people, and also from people within the community who have said, 'I don't know how to get into that network, but I want to do it,'" Harris said of the new leadership initiative, sponsored by the Chicago Community Trust, Deloitte, Exelon and ManpowerGroup.
Applications for the institute's "Inaugural Fellows Class" are being accepted through August 15. The first training course will be held in Chicago from December 3 through December 6.
Another ADA 25 Chicago project underway is the Chicagoland Business Leadership Network. That's an affiliate of the US Business Leadership Network, a business-to-business network focused on the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace, supply chain and marketplace.
ADA 25 Chicago is looking to sign up at least 25 companies in 2015 to create this type of business-to-business network in the Chicago area. Thus far, 15 firms have committed to the effort, which the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation is facilitating. Companies involved with the Chicagoland Business Leadership Network -- some of which include AT&T, Comcast, Deloitte, Discover Financial Services, EY (Ernst & Young), Grainger, KPMG, Northern Trust Bank and Walgreens -- will have their first annual summit meeting in November, Harris said.
The coalition's third main initiative is the 25 for 25 Cultural Access Project.
As part of the project, ADA 25 Chicago "challenged 25 cultural institutions to step up and do something to increase their accessibility" in 2015 and report back at the end of year on "how they reached new audiences and what they plan to do for the future," Harris explained.
Some of the participating cultural institutions include the Chicago History Museum, Field Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Morton Arboretum, among others.
Harris said it is exciting to see such a diverse group of individuals, institutions, businesses and others getting involved with the coalition.
"Our message is we're greater together," she said. "And I think the fact that this coalition -- and how people have wanted to get involved in substantive ways, not just holding an event, but really thinking about how do we make changes internally for the future -- is really heartening and encouraging given all the problems we have in the world."

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