For Bristo, who has served as the President and CEO of Access Living, the Center for Independent Living that serves Chicago, since 1980, the award came at the end of a remarkable year. In March of 2007, Access Living moved into its first permanent office space, a 50,000 square foot building that is the first in the country to fully incorporate aspects of both Universal and Green Design. Accessible to the most number of users and environmentally friendly, the building raises the visibility of disability culture in Chicago, and stands as a testament to the goal of empowering people with disabilities to pursue meaningful, independent lives.
As an organization implementing the rights of people with disabilities, Access Living directly impacted hundreds of people in 2007. Whether it be locating accessible and affordable housing, transitioning individuals out of nursing homes and into communities of their choice, equipping youth with leadership skills, or advocating for increased accessibility in the public schools, Access Living helped guide hundreds of people with disabilities toward independence and empowerment.
Bristo’s leadership goes far beyond the walls of Access Living and Chicago. From 1994 to 2002, she served under President Clinton as the chair of the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency responsible for making recommendations that will improve the implementation and enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Internationally, as the Vice President for North America of Rehabilitation International, Bristo participated in the negotiation sessions for the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The United Nations adopted the convention in 2006.
Speaking about her work, and about people with disabilities, during an interview for the January 2008 edition of Chicago Magazine, Bristo said, “Disability affects all of us. It’s time that we normalize and accept it rather than perceive it to be at the margins of our society.” Chicago Magazine presented the award to Bristo and the other honorees at a luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel in Downtown Chicago on January 24.