Since 1980, we’ve challenged disability stereotypes, protected civil rights, and championed social reforms earning national recognition as a leading force in the disability community.
Access Living offers vital services, support, and advocacy for Chicagoans with disabilities. Staffed by a majority of people with disabilities, our work focuses on doing what it takes to live the lives we choose independently in neighborhoods throughout the city.
Letter from Access Living President/CEO and Board Chairman
Access Living works at the critical juncture where disability and the issues that define our humanity meet – issues like independence, social justice, race, gender, and immigration – combining our service and support efforts with a policy agenda to protect and promote the civil rights of all people with disabilities.
2018 was a turbulent year for the disabled in our city and our country. We saw the number of requests for affordable accessible housing in the city continue to climb. We saw more people with disabilities have interactions with the police that tragically ended in violence. We saw the Illinois State Board of Education take unprecedented steps to sanction Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for years of negligence in special education. We saw a rise in immigration-related issues that impact people with disabilities. We saw continued attacks on Medicaid, Medicare, and the social safety net. Our community was also threatened by attempts to roll back the protections afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Attempts to stoke fear, segregate, and divide were widespread.
In the face of it all, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work to make sure the voices of our consumers with disabilities were heard and their needs met.
To address the lack of accessible affordable housing in Chicago, we filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleging the City of Chicago has funded and developed tens of thousands of affordable rental housing units without ensuring a sufficient number are accessible to people with disabilities as required by federal law.
We built up our work around social and racial justice this year as it relates to wrongful police intervention with people with disabilities. Additionally, the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge awarded Access Living a one-year planning grant to research, analyze, and report on how to reduce the incarceration of people with disabilities from a cross-disability standpoint with a focus on respect for rights and accommodations while in the system.
We released our annual review of the CPS budget for FY2019, which we found did not adequately address the documented violations of federal law governing the education of special education students. We called for a strategic reconsideration of how CPS resolves issues affecting students with disabilities.
We ramped up our advocacy on immigration issues such as DACA and family separations, working to educate our community about why these are important disability issues, not just immigration issues.
Finally, at our annual gala we recognized Roberta Cordano, J.D. and National ADAPT with our 2018 "Lead On" award for their contributions to the disability community. Roberta is President of Gallaudet University, the world’s only university in which all programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate Deaf and hard of hearing students. National ADAPT is the leading national grassroots disability organization workingto expand home and community based services for people with disabilities, including a focus on building an equitable healthcare system. They led the charge in the fight to protect Medicaid.
All of these things represent just a snapshot of the work we did this year, and there is still more work to do. Unfortunately, the challenges people with disabilities face are not new. Our battle is a long one made more urgent by recent threats. We must build upon the hard- fought victories of the past and push forward to find new ways to engage so that we graduate into the next phase of advocacy and service. The work we do is work we are compelled, and have a responsibility, to do for the greater good.
The consumers, staff, and board at Access Living know first-hand that disability changes things. It changes opportunity. It changes possibility. It changes perception. But it shouldn’t limit any of those things. Along with challenges come new opportunities, new possibilities, and new perceptions that can help build a better world for everyone. What we need now are new thinkers – people who don’t just believe in and talk about equality. We need people who believe in equity to stand alongside us and take action. As we push this work forward, we need people who want access for more than themselves because they know that disability rights are human rights and that access benefits everyone. In the disability community we don’t work for what’s mine. We work for what’s ours. Won’t you join us? We need and appreciate your support.
Andrés J. Gallegos, Esq.