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CHM exhibition chronicles movement of disability rights
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2015-06-09

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To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the American's with Disabilities Act ( ADA ), the Chicago History Museum ( CHM ), in partnership with ADA 25 Chicago, hosted a preview event for its newest exhibition "Access For All: Tom Olin's Photographs of the Disabilities Rights Movement" June 5 at the museum.

Olin's ( a disability-rights photographer ) 19 large framed photographs, which were loaned to the CHM by Access Living—a non-profit disability rights organization, chronicle important moments from the disability rights movement both before, during and after the signing of the ADA in July 1990—covers, among other things, those living with HIV/AIDS. This exhibit is the CHM's contribution to the events and initiatives that ADA 25 Chicago has planned for this year. Access Living is also collaborating with the CHM for this exhibit.

"This exhibit helps bring to light a community's attempt to find inclusion within the American dream," said Joy Bivins, director of curatorial affairs. "One of the things that is interesting to me about these images is they are very much related to other community's movement's for full inclusion and quite frankly there are things that most of us just don't think of unless we're denied those particular rights.

"This is another community where you see what their struggles are and that really helps to build empathy across communities. By the end of this exhibit you see the disability-rights movement coalesce with the more traditional civil-rights groups. There are all of these connections with different movements and that is interesting for all of us to see."

This exhibit marks CHM's first foray with descriptive audio-tour technology. This technology enables visitors who have low vision or those who are blind the ability to hear the text that is posted on the walls as well as a description of Olin's photos. The museum will also be making this technology available for its core exhibit, "Chicago: Crossroads of America," later this year.

"This descriptive tour reinforces and increases the Museum's ongoing commitment to creating accessible projects for all of our audiences," said Bivins.

The event featured remarks from CHM President Gary T. Johnson and Access Living President/CEO and Steering Committee Co-Chair of ADA 25 Chicago Marca Bristo ( an activist who helped craft the ADA ).

Johnson noted that, over the years, the museum has made accessibility for everyone a priority including the recently renovated theater.

Bristo spoke about CHM's leadership in opening up public spaces for people with disabilities, adding that it was not that long ago that she had to navigate the a world without accessible facilities and transportation options. She explained that ADA 25 Chicago is working to get disability rights history into the Chicago Public School's curriculum so young people will learn this history. Bristo also noted her involvement in crafting the ADA bill.

"There's a place in this movement for everybody … because there's much more work to be done and that is why ADA 25 Chicago is such an important initiative," said Bristo. "We're celebrating the 25th anniversary here in Chicago but we're also using this as a vehicle to leverage action on this issue."

The event also featured Communication Access Realtime Translation ( CART ) technology. CART technology is covered under the ADA, and is made available for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, have auditory processing disorders, or speak English as a second language. It consists of real-time translation and captioning of what the speakers are saying via a stenograph machine. CART can be set up in multiple ways, including what was used for this event: a projector and screen.

The exhibition opened June 6 and will run until next spring. Admission is free for CHM members or the regular admission rates for non-members which includes access to the rest of the museum's exhibits.

See www.chicagohistory.org, www.accessliving.org and www.ada25chicago.org for more information .


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