Policy Advocacy at Access Living

Disability policy advocacy is a powerful way to win social change, especially in tandem with our legal and organizing work. Access Living has a long and proud history of involvement with key policy initiatives, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and countless local, state and national programs and regulations. Our policy recommendations and initiatives are of, by and for people with disabilities.

We also work to partner with our fellow social justice organizations throughout Chicago and across the state of Illinois. Over the last thirty years, Access Living's staff have created social change for disability rights at the local, state, national and even international levels. We are proud to continue to set the advocacy agenda to support the freedom and power of people with disabilities.

Our core areas of disability policy advocacy are:

Education: ensuring the right of all children with disabilities to a free and appropriate public school education, with meaningful transition outcomes.

Education Policy Analyst: Rod Estvan, (312) 640–2149 or restvan@accessliving.org.

Employment: ensuring the right of people with disabilities to seek and secure meaningful job opportunities.

Employment Community Organizer: Rene David Luna, (312) 640–2108 or rluna@accessliving.org.

Health Access: ensuring the right of people with disabilities to receive quality health care free of environmental or communication barriers.

Health Access Policy Analyst: Judy Panko Reis, (312) 640–2184 or jreis@accessliving.org.

Health Access Policy Analyst: Marilyn Martin, (312) 640–2133 or MMartin@accessliving.org

Community Development Organizer for Health Care (Health policy related to community integration, including Medicaid long term care): Tom Wilson, (312) 640–2127 or twilson@accessliving.org.

Housing: ensuring the right of people with disabilities to live in affordable, accessible, integrated housing in the communities of their choice.

Housing Policy: Cathleen OBrien, (312) 640-2160 or cobrien@accessliving.org

Other active areas of our policy work are transit, Latino and women's issues as they affect people with disabilities.

For questions regarding specific policy areas, contact the folks listed above. For general questions about our policy work or to get involved as a volunteer, contact Amber Smock, Director of Advocacy.
Amber Smock
Director of Advocacy
Title Date
Teaching Kids

Education Outreach and Advocacy

Access Living takes the lead in advocacy on targeted issues with state and local school administrators and governing boards on policy and legislative concerns that have an impact on students with disabilities.
Public Awareness & Outreach

Health and Disability Policy

A description of Health and Disability Policy Work at Access Living.

Disabled Americans Want Work Now (DAWWN)

4th Thursday of each month from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.

At this time, DAWWN is not meeting. For employment related work at Access Living, contact the office about the Job Empowerment Club.
DAWWN fights for employment rights related to vocational rehabilitation and other employment programs.

Comparison of Special Ed Resources in Two Illinois Districts

Presentation by Rod Estvan that compares Special Education Resources across two school districts.

Illinois Budget Legislative Update -- Spring 2015

Access Living needs you to support a revenue solution to Illinois’s budget that protects home services, housing, and transportation for people with disabilities and seniors.

Access Living Legislative Bill Roster: 2016

A list of bills that Access Living is tracking in the 2016 Legislative Session. It is not an exhaustive list of bills Access Living is monitoring or supporting; please contact Access Living’s Director of Advocacy for a full list if you are interested.

Complaint filed against CPS for failure to make school accessible or provide accommodations

Complaint filed in Federal Court against CPS over failure to provide accommodations

Access Living releases analysis of CPS FY 2018 Budget

Analysis FY 18 CPS Budget

CPS routinely delays, denies services to students with disabilities; Advocates demand a Special Master, $10 million in compensation

Findings of ISBE investigation expected tomorrow

Advocates are demanding an independent monitor, $10 million in compensation for corrective action and compensation services for affected students. The inquiry was requested by a coalition of thirteen advocacy groups representing families, teachers, attorneys and people with disabilities.

Systemic Problems with CPS Special Ed

Advocates Respond to ISBE Findings on CPS Special Education Policies and Practices

Today advocates welcomed the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) findings of systematic problems in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) provision of services to students with disabilities.

New Survey Shows CPS Special Ed Problems Continue Despite ISBE Probe

Parents, teachers say CPS hasn’t fixed problems, independent monitoring team needed to oversee program and protect students

Despite claims that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has fixed the special ed problems at issue in a state probe, the vast majority of parents and teachers responding to a new survey say they continue to experience the same delays, denials and roadblocks in obtaining services for students that prompted the state investigation in the first place.

Access Living releases disability rights analysis of CPS FY 2019 Budget

Budget doesn’t adequately impact documented special ed violations

CHICAGO – July 23, 2018 -- Today Access Living published its annual review of the Chicago Public Schools budget for the FY2019 year. Access Living once again calls for a strategic reconsideration of how CPS will resolve issues affecting students with disabilities, with the view that resolving many of these issues can help stabilize the overall education climate in CPS.

Access Living Applauds New State Law Supporting CPS Students with Disabilities

SB454 Increases Parental Involvement

With Governor Rauner’s signature of SB 454 this week, the needs of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students with disabilities will be better met.

Fall 2018 CPS Special Education Issues

Advocates continue to hear that problems with special education service persist. Please provide the Advocates Group with up–to–date information about your experiences this school year.


The Advocates Group

The Advocates issued this survey to examine the current situation in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) special education program under the supervision of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and its Monitor. In May 2018 the ISBE found CPS’ policies violated special education law and subsequently appointed a monitor to oversee the district’s special education program for the next three years and carry out the agency’s corrective actions. We hope ISBE finds these survey results to be a helpful indicator of the current status of ISBE’s monitoring for further improvements. A total of 800 parents, teachers, students, and other stakeholders took the survey from September 24, 2018 to October 12, 2018.

ISBE and CPS Far Behind Schedule to Reform Special Education, Advocates appeal to Pritzker to fix the problems

Teachers say CPS has not fixed problems; parents still in the dark about ISBE findings and students’ right to compensation

CHICAGO—Six months after the state nominally took control of special education in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is still failing to bring the promised changes to students with disabilities, according to results of a new parent/teacher survey.

Court Rules Lawsuit Against Uber for ADA Violations Can Continue

Holding Rideshare Companies to ADA Will Expand Access to Underserved Population

CHICAGO - Judge Manish S. Shah of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, issued a decision Monday allowing a lawsuit to proceed against Uber Technologies, Inc. for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).