Thursday, July 24, 2003
By Andy Egenes
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Ann Ford just snickers whenever she hears that the Americans with Disabilities Act was a gift.
Ford, executive director of the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living, was keynote speaker at a 13th anniversary celebration of the ADA Act in Washington Park Wednesday afternoon.
She wanted to clear up what she believes are a few misconceptions about the law.
“It’s not a law that says we’re better than anybody else. It’s not a law that says we are special because of our disability,” Ford said. “It’s a law that says we’re equal to other citizens.”
Just because people cannot see, walk or hear, Ford said, “it does not make us less equal. It gives us a right to go across the same street and use the same public transportation that all of our tax dollars pay for.”
The West Central Illinois Center for Independent Living in Quincy organized the two-hour long event, attended by about 100advocates for the disabled and well-wishers. The center assists disabled citizens in Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike, Schuyler and McDonough counties.
Centers for Independent Living are community-based, not-for-profit organizations mandated to serve people with any type of disability.
Joe Mason, president of the center’s board of directors, said great progress has been made during the 45 years he’s been handicapped, but changing people’s perceptions about the handicapped will take time.
“It’s not been too long ago that we’ve known a former United States president once used a wheelchair,” Mason said, referring to a time when Franklin Roosevelt’s public appearances were scripted to hide his disability.
The theme of the day was “Keep A-D-A Alive” and Barry Lowy, senior attorney for Equip for Equality, talked about his experiences representing disabled citizens.
Once involved in a private law practice, Lowy said he left “the land of the big bucks because it became personal.”
His mother had multiple sclerosis and became visibly upset when he told a story about how his grade school teacher made a joke about handicaps. According to Lowy, his teacher thought it was funny to “watch the cripples fumble through the turnstiles” getting onto the subway.
“My mother was one of them. So I said right there, ‘That’s it,’ and walked out of school that day,” Lowy said. “I still remember that from sixth grade.”
Ford said there are several incentives to afford people with disabilities the same civil liberties as everyone else, beyond it being the right thing to do.
Ford, who works with businesses to make commercial developments more handicapped accessible, gets feedback about how she has helped changed the minds of business owners.
“You hear talk about how expensive (renovation projects) are going to be and all this stuff,” she said. “But once they did become handicapped accessible, what they find is there is a whole new market out there they didn’t have.
“Because we all shop, we all go places and pay the same prices as everybody else ... but it’s giving us the same rights everybody else fully expects and receives.”
Awards were presented to individuals who have overcome their disabilities to participate in academics, athletics, community service, employment or volunteer work.
Other awards were given for advocates of those with disabilities and to caregivers who showed compassionate concern for the disabled.
The awards presented were:
• Kamylle Austin — a 2-year-old Quincyan who has battled a spinal cord condition.
• Jesse Mullins — a 6-year-old who has fought numerous health obstacles to play T-ball in the Quincy Park District.
• Darlene Royalty — a caregiver to three daughters who have been diagnosed with fatal diseases.
• Julie Irvine — program director at the WCICIL who has devoted countless
hours and effort to advocating on disability issues.
Copyright © 2003, Quincy Newspapers, Inc.