In Memory of Andrés Gallegos


December 7, 2023 | by Amber Smock

We are heartbroken to announce that on Friday, December 1, our dear friend, colleague, and former Board Chair, Andrés J. Gallegos passed away. 

Over the course of Andrés ‘ many years as a healthcare attorney and disability advocate, we came to know him as a true titan in our movement. Andrés spent many years building power with Access Living, including through many years of service on our Board of Directors, two terms as Board Chair, and his representation of Access Living community members in pursuit of healthcare legal justice. 

With Andrés’ leadership, Access Living staff and other colleagues worked to build the foundation for advancing access within hospital settings, particularly accessible medical equipment. Working alongside leaders such as Dr. Lisa Iezzoni at the Harvard Medical School, Andrés fought to expose rampant physician biases and stereotypes about patients with disabilities, such as in this 2021 piece for Health Affairs. His healthcare advocacy inspired a new generation of disability health equity advocates in academia, law, policy and organizing.

Andrés had a huge influence on the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living (INCIL), providing legal counsel to INCIL on many occasions. He frequently worked with Illinois Centers for Independent Living (CILs) across the state. In the days since Andrés passed, we have heard from multiple directors of other Illinois CILs about the recent work he was doing to help their consumers who faced significant barriers. 

Andrés was passionate about the visibility of disabled people and disability issues in politics and government. He served a number of times as a moderator for Access Living’s candidates’ forums, most recently in January of this year for the Chicago mayoral race. As a moderator, he was known to add extra zing to his script, aiming to not only educate the public but to hold candidates accountable to the disability community.

Most recently, he was the Chairman of the National Council on Disability (NCD), a critical strategic position previously held by his friend and our founder, Marca Bristo. Andrés was especially proud of NCD’s Framework to End Health Disparities of People with Disabilities, a personal passion project that served as a culmination of his decades of advocacy on accessible healthcare. His leadership of the national process to create and expand on the Framework stands as a model in pursuing real listening and exchange among people with all kinds of disabilities.

In his powerful cover letter for the Framework, Andrés called out the United States’ national failure to ensure healthcare as a human right:

“Attaining and maintaining good health is the predicate for engaging in every aspect of American life. As long as maternal health disparities exist between women with physical, sensory or intellectual disabilities compared to women without disabilities; as long as people with physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities have a life expectancy that is less than half of someone without disabilities; as long as people with disabilities are significantly more likely to have unmet medical, dental and prescription needs than those without disabilities; and as long as disability-based discrimination remains pervasive and systemic throughout our healthcare system aided by federal funds, our great nation carries a shameful blot on its measure of success.”

Andrés then proceeded to challenge all agencies of the federal government to use a whole-of-government approach in addressing disparities in healthcare for people with disabilities. Because he was in constant community and conversation with disabled people denied healthcare, he advocated from a deeply informed, and deeply felt, sense of injustice. And he did it by being strategic, gracious, and completely adamant.  

For the Access Living community and many, many others, Andrés was beloved as a source of constant wise counsel, camaraderie, and wit. He was deeply respected for his cross-disability expertise by disability advocates across the nation.

Access Living sends our heartfelt condolences to all of Andrés’ family, friends, and colleagues in the disability movement. We commit ourselves to Andrés’ memory in our resolve to pursue true healthcare justice for all of us.