Kessler Foundation awards Access Living $500,000 for READY Program

Grant goes toward transition programs for young people with disabilities

Chicago – Access Living is thrilled to announce a two-year, $500,000 Grant from the Kessler Foundation, a global leader in the field of disability and rehabilitation research.
The grant will go toward the development of Access Living’s new Beatrice C Mayer READY Program, (Realizing Education and Advancement for Disabled Youth). Geared toward high school students, the READY program will focus on preparing young people with disabilities for future transition, whether that transition includes higher education or entering the job market.

Young people with disabilities often face multiple social and physical barriers that prevent them from accessing opportunities on a playing field level with their non-disabled peers. From kindergarten through 12th Grade, Individualized Education Plans serve as a tool that help students with disabilities navigate and address those barriers. Yet, IEPs don’t extend beyond high school. The READY Program is a two-track, person-centered model. The program will help address barriers beyond high school, equipping young people with the tools and resources that will provide a foundation for success in college and in the pursuit of employment.

In terms of post-secondary education, compared to their non-disabled peers, fewer high school students with disabilities enroll in college and fewer of them complete college once they start.

“A college degree is the key to future success,” said Marca Bristo, President & CEO of Access Living. “In order to be successful in college, students with disabilities need disability supports.”

Participants in the college track of the READY Program will receive one-on-one guidance that will support people with disabilities through the application process and that will identify accessibility needs and accommodation resources. The one-on-one guidance will also help identify financial aid, grant, and scholarship opportunities.

According to a report from the Chicago Community Trust, the employment rate of people with disabilities in Illinois is just more than 35%, compared to 74% for non-disabled people.

“It’s no secret that a huge employment gap exists between people with and without disabilities,” Bristo said. “The READY program is a tool to address that gap.”

For the employment track of the READY Program, program specialists and classroom instruction will provide the guidance necessary to develop the skills needed to secure employment and to be successful on the job. In addition, Access Living will connect participants with existing Chicago-area programs that offer job training skills, and Access Living will provide training on access and accommodations in the job market.

The grant from the Kessler Foundation builds upon a $500,000 gift from Beatrice Cummings Mayer, and support from the Walmart Foundation’s State Giving Program. The grant will allow Access Living to continue development of the READY Program, which will be part of Access Living’s newly established Youth Institute, the collection of services and programs for young people with disabilities offered by Access Living.

“We are extremely grateful for the generous gifts of the Kessler Foundation, Beatrice Cummings Mayer, and the Walmart Foundation State Giving Program,” Bristo said. “With these gifts, we have the support necessary for a program that addresses post-secondary and employment barriers faced by people with disabilities.”

The READY Program represents one of Access Living’s legacy commitments to ADA 25 Chicago, a network of public and private partners leveraging the 25 anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act to improve access, equality and opportunity for people with disabilities throughout Metropolitan Chicago.

Established in 1980, Access Living is a non-profit, Chicago-based disability rights and service organization that provides individualized, peer-based services for people with disabilities. Committed to challenging stereotypes, protecting civil rights and breaking institutional and community barriers, Access Living is a nationally recognized change agent at the forefront of the disability rights movement.