“One of the things I proposed when I came to Access Living was how we could get the idea of disability rights into the minds of the general population,” Mathews said. “Because often when you think about let’s say animal rights, you think of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) or the Humane Society. Or when you think of racial civil rights, you think of NAACP or Rainbow PUSH Coalition. But when I talk to people about disability rights, there’s this huge disparity in what people think about in terms of organizations that deal with disability rights.”
In his capacity as Access Living’s disability resource coordinator, Mathews serves as a reference source for any inquiries about programs and services for people with disabilities – he said these inquiries concern anything from housing to legal support and travel. He would like far more people to be aware of these services and wants the name “Access Living” to be synonymous with cross-disability rights.
To get the message out, he has been organizing events open to the general public such as the annual Access Living Open House, which remains a yearly highlight for him. He also travels to street festivals and neighborhoods across the city to set up tables on behalf of Access Living. At these events, people can pick up informational materials and learn about services, peer groups and anything else available to the disability community.
“The idea is to get everyone to think about disability as being that one factor that unites us because everybody at some point in their lives is going to join the community of people with disabilities,” Mathews said. “That’s something that I want to get out there and if that’s going to be the case that everybody is going to think about life with disability, then Access Living should be that organization that they think about.”
Mathew’s outreach work with Access Living is part of a broader interest he has in the disability movement. He is a member of the activism group Chicago ADAPT and works with organizations that advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS. These organizations all aim to reform policies and bring greater attention to people with disabilities. His advocacy work strives to represent every sector of the public and unite all types of disabilities under one umbrella.
Mathews said that visiting professional buildings, schools and a variety of neighborhoods has been an effective way to educate people and expand the Access Living base.
“Suddenly [people at events and presentations] see an organization that says ‘Nothing about us without us,’ or talks about disability rights and they come up to us and ask us what we do,” Mathews said. “And when I explain what Access Living is about, you can almost see something click on in their brains as they gain this comprehension that, ‘Oh there is a cross-disability support group or cross-disability organization that advocates for all people with disabilities.’”
Mathews plans to continue organizing the Access Living Open House and visiting neighborhoods to reach out to as much of the community as possible. Beyond that, he will keep branching out into more outreach platforms to fully realize his mission and the mission of the disability rights movement.