“Adjusting was tough. We went through sadness, anger, the whole nine yards,” recalls Yolanda Wright. Prior to his stroke in 2012, Kenneth Wright went about his days without worrying about possible barriers imposed on him by a disability. A devoted husband and father of three, Kenneth worked full time as an Employment Specialist, traveled, played instruments, recorded music, was heavily involved in his church, and devoted the remainder of his time helping others. His life changed dramatically in February 2012 when he had a stroke that landed him in a coma for three weeks. Now he uses a wheelchair, has limited use of his hands and speaks with the assistance of his wife Yolanda and computer technology.
Kenneth and Yolanda Wright
At the time of his stroke, Kenneth and his family lived in a condominium building with stairs. Yolanda recalls, “Adjusting was tough. We went through sadness, anger, the whole nine yards. When we wanted to leave the house it was a battle to convince the fire department to perform wheelchair assists because they would not help unless there was a medical reason.” A man with a 6’5 frame, Kenneth could only leave home with help from the fire department or his daughters carrying him. As a result, Kenneth became confined to his home.
In November 2013 the Wright family began installing a chair lift that would make it easier for Kenneth to leave home. This installation was met with opposition from neighbors in the building, who feared the chair would take up too much space or be aesthetically unpleasing. Although neighbors did not have to incur any of the costs - including electricity, they interfered by physically dismantling the chair lift. To further complicate things, the condominium was going through a period in which there was no governing board to manage the association.
Yolanda began seeking legal services and reached out to Access Living’s legal team for help. She recalls Ken Walden, the Managing Attorney at Access Living, “Ken was calm, relaxing and knew what he was doing. It was really what we needed after dealing with irate neighbors and financial stress. We knew we could relax and let him handle it.” Walden worked with the Wright family and with the law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman to negotiate with the neighbors, eventually informing them of possible litigation.
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As a result of Access Living’s help, the neighbors finally agreed to allow the Wright family to reinstall the chair lift. This modification has allowed Kenneth and his family to go to church, and enjoy dinner, movies, concerts and the various attractions Chicago offers. He can now be involved in his grandchildren’s lives, playing with them as they ride with him on his chair, without being confined to his home.
Though Kenneth still has to navigate his disability, the chair lift alone has made a tremendous impact on his ability to live an inclusive life. However, societal barriers, such as people’s understanding of accessibility and accommodations, continue to be an obstacle that Kenneth and many others with disabilities face. “Although someone might have a disability, they are still a person with emotions, aspirations and a need for companionship. They shouldn’t have to be secluded. They want to be equal,” concludes Yolanda.
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