Director of Communications
Chicago – Marca Bristo, one of the country’s leading advocates for people with disabilities, stepped down earlier this week from her leadership role as CEO of Access Living, Chicago’s leading disability rights organization, which she founded almost 40 years ago. Bristo resigned due to her cancer prognosis and to have this time with her family. She will retain the title and responsibilities of president.
Executive Vice President Daisy Feidt has been named Acting CEO, and a search will soon begin to pick a new permanent CEO who will sustain Access Living’s national leadership.
“Access Living has a strong plan for interim leadership and combined with its talented staff, we can ensure it will remain a powerhouse in the disability community,” said John Schmidt, the organization’s incoming Board Chair who has been tapped to lead the search committee, and who is a partner at the Chicago law firm Mayer Brown LLP.
Bristo founded and built Access Living from the ground up, and the organization is a fixture in the disability community nationally. She’s a staunch disability rights advocate on the national stage who helped author the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.
Bristo co-founded and served as the chair for the National Council on Independent Living for many years. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton and approved by Congress as chair of the National Council on Disability from 1994-2002— marking the first time the organization named a chair with a disability.
Then, as the vice president of North America for Rehabilitation International, she participated in the negotiation for the United Nations’ (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the UN adopted in 2006. As president of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities, she led the fight for the United States’ ratification of that treaty.
Bristo has been honored with many distinctions including the Distinguished Service Award of the President of the United States; the Henry B. Betts Laureate, considered the Nobel Prize in the disability field; and the 1993 United Way of Chicago Executive of the Year Award.
Bristo was named by Crain’s Chicago Business as one of Chicago’s 100 Most Influential Women; was named as one of the Chicago Sun-Times’ 100 Most Powerful Women; and is the recipient of honorary doctorates from both Beloit College and Rush University. Most recently, Bristo was elected to the Board of Trustees at the Ford Foundation, and just last month received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council on Independent Living.
“We can’t overstate Marca’s contribution to Access Living and the profound impact she has had on the independent living movement, the disability rights movement and the disability community domestically and internationally,” said Andrés Gallegos, Access Living’s current board chair. “The world’s one billion people with disabilities are forever indebted to Marca for her vision, advocacy and leadership.”
“I step down from my leadership with pride, gratitude and love for the entire Access Living community,” said Bristo. “Together we have shared victories and setbacks. The greatest joy of my professional life has been helping young people find their power and seize their rightful place in in the world. The future is in good hands. The values that the next generation of disability leaders will carry forward will change the world.”