‘We Have Come a Long Way’

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.”

ADA Stories: Evadney Stephens

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.”

‘My Particular Disability Is not Visible’

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: ADA a ‘Sea Change in Social Policy’

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.”

‘Like That, the World Changed for Me’

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.

Equipping Rush Students to Succeed

Robert Leven, PhD, is the 2012 recipient of Rush’s Henry P. Russe, MD, Humanitarian Award, which is given annually to a member of the Rush community who demonstrates an exceptional compassion and commitment to the well-being of others.

Inspired by an uncle who had developmental disabilities and severe asthma, Robert Leven has spent 15 years working on behalf of Rush students with disabilities.

“My uncle was born in 1920, and I’ve often thought about how his life might have been different if he had grown up in the world as it is today, how he might have been able to accomplish or experience what he never had a chance to do,” says Leven, assistant dean of basic science education for Rush Medical College, and associate professor of anatomy and cell biology.

Leven took a lead role in forming Rush University’s Disability Assessment
Team, which responds to student requests for accommodations for a disability.

“We’ve had students with a range of disabilities, including students who use wheelchairs, have a hearing impairment or visual disabilities. The most common disability is a learning disability,” Leven says. Continue reading

Doctor Has Seen Disability From Both Sides

Maria Brown, DO, was an advocate for people with disabilities long before she became one herself. As a teenager growing up on Chicago’s South Side in the early 1970s, she befriended a group of young adults with disabilities who were involved in protests for greater access to public transportation.

Brown, assistant professor of family medicine and attending physician, Rush University Family Physicians, has remained passionately committed to the rights and needs of people with disabilities to this day. In the 1990s, she helped found the Association of Horizon, which raises funds for a camp for adults with muscular dystrophy. Since 2002, she has been the attending physician for Misericordia, a home for more than 600 children and adults with developmental and physical disabilities on Chicago’s far North Side.

Brown also has made an impact on the understanding of disability at Rush. She arranges for people with disabilities to speak to Rush Medical College students during the first-week orientation and the mandatory third-year family medicine clerkship. She also serves on Rush’s Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Committee.

Brown is personally familiar with disability. As an adult, she developed a degenerative spine condition, and she uses a walker to assist with her mobility. Nonetheless, she maintains a busy schedule, arriving for morning rounds at 5:30 a.m. in order to complete them before moving on to her many other duties — which also include serving as volunteer medical director of Pilsen Homeless Services, a shelter near Rush. Continue reading

‘How Accessibility Should Be’

Paula J. Brown

By Paula J. Brown

On Oct. 20, Rush University Medical Center celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Thonar Award Program. This program celebrates the achievements of people with disabilities who turn “a disability into a possibility,” or someone who helps people with disabilities to do the same. What a wonderful event! For 20 years we have highlighted the achievements of people who just want to be productive citizens like everybody else. They are cherished by someone who loves them, and this program is really the highlight of our year. It helps that is usually held in October, which is Disability Awareness Month.

It is hard to imagine what life was like before the ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act), passed on July 26, 1990. Many people with disabilities — or as I like to refer to them, people with “different” abilities — had a very difficult time being productive. No mandated assistance, no curb cuts, no accessible bathrooms, no accessible transportation. How could we value so little of the lives of so many? Finally, we as a nation got it. And now we are reaping the benefits of the talents and brilliance that people with “different” abilities bring to the table of life every day.

Continue reading