Greater Together ADA 25 review - Chicago’s First Cultural Accessibility Summit

On September 1, 2015, The Goodman Theatre, Chicago, was the setting for an historic collaborative effort: “Greater Together”,  Chicago’s first cultural accessibility summit, in conjunction with ADA 25 Chicago. This year marks the 25th anniversary of historic legislation: the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Robert Gallo and Steve Pemberton

On July 26, 1990, the Congress enacted and President George Bush signed into law 42 USC 12101, et sec., “An act to establish a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability”, hereinafter referred to as The ADA. It is a wide-ranging piece of civil rights legislation which amplifies protections found in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, or national origin. The ADA contains 5 titles, employment, public entities and transportation, public accommodation and commercial facilities, telecommunications and technical provisions, such as freedom from retaliation or coercion. The ADA goes a step further than 1964’s Act by requiring covered employers  to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and also imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations. On September 25, 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law the ADA Amendment Act of 2008, (ADA AA), effective January 1, 2009, which emphasized that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals.

Greater Together

The disabilities covered include both mental and physical conditions and  need not be severe or permanent. The law is enforceable.

In the years since, the Act and its Amendments have been the law of the land, all Americans have become used to seeing closed-captioned television, wheelchair access ramps and obviously disabled employees in the workplace.

Betty Siegel with signer

 

This year, however, in Chicago, a comprehensive and sweeping effort is being made to expand and celebrate the efforts and effects of this great law.  ADA 25 Chicago, a network of more than 160 civic partners including 30-plus cultural entities , whose lead sponsor is The Chicago Community Trust have joined together to commit to launching new programs and initiatives . These renewed and newly planned efforts will be directed to creating and implementing services for individuals with disabilities as well as expanding public awareness of the need for greater opportunities and access to cultural riches for all human beings.

Susan Chun

In honor of the the 25th anniversary of the ADA, the Goodman theatre joined the 25 for 25 Cultural Access Project, Thirty - plus Chicago area museums, Theatre's and other cultural institutions dedicated to excellence in the achievement of the best practices in accessibility.

 

The summit at the Goodman was hosted by LeeAnn Trotter of NBC5 news, and included stirring speeches and informative panel discussions by and including speakers Robert Gallo, State Director of AARP ( The American Association for Retired Persons) Of Illinois; Susan Chun, Chief content Officer at the Museum for Contemporary Art, Chicago; Steve Pemberton, Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion for Walgreens Boots Alliance; actor Michael Patrick Thornton, Artistic Director and Co-founder of the Gift Theatre; and Betty Siegel, Director of Accessibility at The John F.Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Two other speakers, both authors, one visually and one aurally challenged added poignant stories of their own.

Evan Hatfield

What was most impressive to this reviewer was the aura of wonder at human possibility that emanated from all the speakers. The sheer exuberant creativity involved in some of the solutions went way beyond  the commonplace. One speaker expressed the hope that disability could actually become a part of the corporate advantage! Another mentioned that assistive tools helped her brother find a way back to the world. It was emphasized that the disabled are the largest minority community in this country, that the lines of profitability and social impact must intersect, and that the disability conversation must be integrated into the network of everyday life. When Susan Chun read the description of a piece of artwork which an MCA staff member created for blind art patrons, the piece itself was poetic art!

 

With conferences such as the one at the Goodman and groups of committed organizations like this , we can hope to see a flowering of inclusive art in Chicago and to help lead the way to continuing to expand the spirit of the ADA in America; we will all be greater together!

 

There is a long, exciting and wonderful calendar of cultural events lined up throughout Chicagoland through July, 2016. Check it out the ADA25Chicago website.

 

Photos: Courtesy of ADA 25

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