When she was looking for work back in the 1960s, Eva Wimpffen had a hard time finding any at first.
“I was refused jobs, not because I didn’t have the qualification, but because of the deformity of my hands,” says Wimpffen, who has rheumatoid arthritis. “I was told point blank that I was not suitable.”
That was years before the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which provided employment protections, along with increased access, for people with disabilities.
“We have come a long way,” says Wimpffen, who eventually landed a job at Rush, where she was a patient. ”Buses that are accessible. Taxicabs that have a lift, and you can get up there in a wheelchair and be able to get around and continue your lifestyle.”
Despite his visual impairment, Muhammad Ullah and his family didn’t even know he had a disability when they immigrated to the U.S. Once his condition was diagnosed, it enabled him to receive help on his way to becoming a medical student at Rush.
Ullah credits the Americans With Disabilities Act, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last July, with opening doors for him. “You have to give people the chance,” he says. “It might not work out, but they can come in and they can do their best and contribute. … That’s what the ADA does … it really gives people opportunities.”
Michael Welch was a professional musician and dancer until his mid-20s.
“Then I had a pretty gnarly, high-speed biking accident that put me in a wheelchair,” says Welch, who spent two months in a hospital recovering from his injuries.
“I was inspired by the medicine that was happening around me, so I chose to go into medicine,” he says.
And Welch applied to Rush Medical College.
“During the interview process and the application process, I really didn’t bring up my disability, and neither did anybody that was interviewing me,” says Welch, now a student at Rush. “It was great to have that level of respect for my independence.”
After he arrived on campus, Rush helped him get a standing wheelchair that enabled him to participate in cadaver dissection.
“They helped me get the funding for it, and to acquire it,” he says, “and elevated me, quite literally, to the level of my peers to make the curriculum entirely accessible to me.”
Why does Evadney Stephens call downtown Chicago home?
“Oh my goodness. I live down there because it’s so accessible now,” says Stephens, a lab technician at Rush who uses a wheelchair.
Thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act, which became law 25 years ago, public transportation has become increasingly accessible to people who are disabled.
“Now I can take a bus, even in the chair, because the buses have ramps,” she says. “I can take taxis. They have ramps and I can just roll up into them now. Things have changed so much.”
You wouldn’t know by looking at him that Christopher Miller was disabled.
“My particular disability is not visible,” says Miller, an outreach coordinator with the Road Home Program at Rush. “I went to war, I saw combat, but when I came back it took several years, quite frankly, to figure that I did, in fact, have a disability. There was something going on.”
The Marine Corps veteran sought help for his post-traumatic stress disorder, the kind of help that he and the Road Home Program provide for fellow veterans and their families. And it made all the difference.
“Once I got treatment and therapy and different options like that,” he says, “it turned my life around.”
Maria Brown, DO, has long been an advocate for people with disabilities. She has also experienced it firsthand.
As an adult, she developed a degenerative spine condition that for several years required her to use a walker to get around.
Here Brown, a family medicine physician at Rush, discusses how the Americans With Disabilities Act has affected her and millions of others across the U.S.
“This is something that cannot be taken for granted,” she says. “It’s an amazing sea change in social policy in my lifetime.”
Marca Bristo is as familiar as anyone with the Americans With Disabilities Act. She helped write it.
Paralyzed from the chest down after a 1977 diving accident, she’s also among millions profoundly affected by the legislation.
“The law for the first time enshrined in federal law that disability is a normal part of the human condition,” she says, “and the world needed to change.”
Bristo, who uses wheelchair, is co-founder, president and CEO of Access Living, a Chicago-based advocacy group for people with disabilities. She’s a trustee with Rush University Medical Center and a graduate of the Rush University College of Nursing.
She discusses the ADA’s impact in this video, the first in a series featuring Rush leaders, students and staff members talking about the ADA and about living with a disability.