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Friday, July 24, 2015

Cutting curbs and opening doors for Chicagoans with disabilities: Editorial

very nice Editorial, WRITTEN BY CHICAGO SUN-TIMES EDITORIAL | 07/23/2015

Chicago was a decidedly unfriendly town for people with disabilities before 1990.
Curbs weren’t cut, buses didn’t kneel, most restaurants and stores were off limits and few Chicagoans with physical, intellectual or other disabilities could find work. It was the same story around the country.

But making the necessary, accommodating changes would be too expensive, some critics complained. What’s the point, others asked.

Enter the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law 25 years ago this Sunday. Building on other landmark civil rights laws, the legislation prohibits discrimination in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities.

The world soon began to change for the better — for those with disabilities and for everyone else whose lives are enhanced by their presence in the larger world.
Chicago charged ahead, cutting curbs, widening doors, making public transit accessible. Turns out it wasn’t such a big deal after all. On two of the ADA’s four core goals — full participation and equal opportunity — Chicago and much of the nation are doing pretty well.

But much work remains. Progress has been discouragingly slow on the movement’s other two goals: greater employment and independent living for people with disabilities, say the organizers of ADA 25 Chicago, a regional network of civic groups organized to mark the anniversary. Just 35 percent of the 1.4 million people with disabilities in Illinois are employed, compared to 75 percent of the working-age population without disabilities. Poverty is far more acute among people with disabilities.

It doesn’t have to be this way. More often than not, workplace accommodations aren’t costly or require no investments at all, with payoffs for the employee and employer. Often all it takes is know-how and some guidance, which is why a newly established Chicagoland business network is so essential. Companies with experience successfully hiring people with disabilities, such as Walgreens, will share their strategies and successes through the network, an affiliate of a larger national business-t0-business network. In addition, the City of Chicago should consider hiring goals for city contractors, as the federal government instituted for contractors last year.

If Chicago can cut curbs — and change attitudes about people with disabilities — its employers certainly can raise those dismally low employment rates.


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