‘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.”

Thonar Leaves Legacy of Accessibility at Rush

Eugene_ThonarBy Kevin McKeough

Eugene Thonar, PhD, overcame both a disabling illness and a poor childhood education to become an internationally renowned biochemist and a leader of Rush’s efforts to accommodate the needs of patients, employees and visitors with disabilities. The namesake of Rush’s annual Thonar award and an emeritus professor of biochemistry and orthopedic surgery, Thonar retired in October after 32 years at Rush.

“Rush has been very fortunate that Dr. Thonar spent his entire career here. During that time, he made immense contributions as a researcher, a teacher and mentor, and an advocate for people with disabilities,” says Thomas A. Deutsch, MD, provost of Rush University and dean of Rush Medical College. “His influence can be seen in the design of the Tower and in many other ways that the Medical Center accommodates the needs of people with disabilities. Eugene’s impact in this area will continue to be felt long into the future.”

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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.

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