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ADA 25 Chicago holds launch event
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA ), more than 200 people including elected officials, civic leaders, business leaders and members of disability organizations gathered to launch "ADA 25 Chicago: Greater > Together" April 17 at Motorola Mobility's headquarters in Chicago.

ADA 25 Chicago is a network of public, private and nonprofit partners who are committed to improving access, equality and opportunity for people with disabilities throughout Metropolitan Chicago. To date, about 150 partner organizations in the Chicago region have committed to creating programs and initiatives ( educational, cultural, arts, sports and recreation events ) focusing on education, employment, community inclusion and technology. The goal of ADA 25 Chicago is to make Metropolitan Chicago the most inclusive region in the nation. The organization's steering committee co-chairs are Marca Bristo, president and CEO of Access Living and Steve Pemberton, divisional vice-president and chief diversity officer at Walgreens.

The Chicago Community Trust is, according to the ADA 25 Chicago website, "the lead supporter of ADA 25 Chicago and has assembled honorary and steering committees to lead this initiative with the region's leading civic, business, cultural, educational, community and disability rights organizations."

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's website, "the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities. Persons with HIV disease, either symptomatic or asymptomatic, have physical impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities and thus are protected by the ADA as well as persons who are discriminated against because they are regarded as being HIV positive are also protected. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications relay services."

Speakers included Rick Osterloh ( president and CEO of Motorola Mobility ), Terry Mazany ( president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust ), Bristo, Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Karen Tamley ( commissioner of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, City of Chicago ) and Pemberton.

Osterloh welcomed everyone to the event and said that the Motorola Mobility is committed to making its technology work for people with disabilities.

"This summer we will be hosting a special hackathon for tech entrepreneurs and developers as a part of ADA 25 Chicago's programs and initiatives. The hackathon competition will challenge participants to collaborate and create software that makes Chicago more accessible for people with disabilities," said Osterloh.

"This milestone shouldn't just be about celebrating 25 years of progress, it should also be an opportunity to change the paradigm in our society to move from a medial model of treatment and care for people with disabilities to a more inclusive society," said Mazany.

Mazany noted that The Chicago Community Trust provided $1 million in grant money so ADA 25 Chicago could get started.

"Today marks the beginning of a very exciting year of opportunity, commitment, action and impact for the Chicago region. More than 1 million residents in Illinois have some kind of disability … and while the ADA has made things more accessible for us there is still a long road ahead to reach full inclusion, accessibility and equality. The road ahead is why we are here today," said Bristo.

Bristo said that ADA 25 Chicago will consist of three overall initiatives: public awareness and cultural activities, legacy projects and partner commitments. Some of the ADA 25 Chicago programs and initiatives that Bristo highlighted were the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus ADA 25 Task Force which will survey all 273 cities, towns and villages to identify best practices and ways to be more inclusive and Rush University Health Systems which will be reassessing every program and facility so they can move beyond a compliance model of operating and move to a model of promoting inclusion for patients and employment. Bristo explained that a number of civic venues will include speakers on topics of employment, education and inclusion for people with disabilities such as The Economic Club of Chicago, City Club of Chicago and the Chicago Humanities Festival.

Durbin called Bristo his "shero" and noted her involvement in getting the ADA passed. He spoke about how former Senators Tom Harkin—a Democrat from Iowa and Bob Dole—a Republican and disabled World War II veteran teamed up to get the ADA passed.

The audience burst into laughter when Duckworth took to the podium and joked that she dropped her paper on purpose just to show her physical therapist that she could lean down and retrieve it while standing up. She noted how inspiring it is to see such great work getting started in the Chicagoland area under the ADA 25 Chicago banner as well as the need to look forward to the work that still needs to be done.

"I've done more in my life now than I did before I became disabled and that is what the ADA does. It opens doors and allows you to be your very best self, regardless of your disability, and so we should do more so people with disabilities can live fulfilling, productive and enjoyable lives," said Duckworth.

Sanguinetti noted that she is very grateful for the ADA because in 2007 she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and due to that diagnosis she is considered disabled. She also said that the work she did as an assistant attorney general included handling cases involving the ADA.

Madigan said that as far as she knows the Illinois Attorney General's office is the only AG office in the nation to maintain a bureau that is dedicated to disability rights and her office is working to make sure that the federal and state laws provide for access to public spaces, housing and local government programs and services.

Tamley said that, under Mayor Rahm Emanuel's leadership, Chicago has become more ADA accessible including a number of CTA stations and the installation of curb ramps across the city as well as a number of cultural events. She noted that this summer, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events has booked three musicians with disabilities to headline at the city's jazz and blues festivals.

"As a wheelchair user, the ADA has dramatically improved the quality of my life," said Tamley.

Pemberton spoke about his commitment to increasing employment for people with disabilities at Walgreen's nationwide. He said this is personal since he grew up with a mom who had a disability that was undiagnosed and for whom employment was difficult.

Among the many legacy projects announced at the event were the Chicago Business Leadership Network—to expand disability inclusion in the workplace, supply chain and marketplace; the Leadership Institute for People with Disabilities—to create leaders with disabilities to serve in public, private and nonprofit leadership positions and 25 for 25 Cultural Access Plans—challenging 25 cultural institutions to increase inclusion and accessibility at their institutions.

A Disability Pride Parade and National Legacy Tour will take place on July 18, along with a number of other events. ADA 25 Chicago's Closing Summit will be held this coming fall to report on the progress that the organization has made and unveil new partner commitments and legacy projects.

A partners meeting took place following the event.

See and for more information.

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