To celebrate access and inclusion for people with disabilities, The Chicago Lighthouse invited Commissioner Karen Tamley of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities to comment on the progress that has been made, and the challenges that remain in ensuring full equality and independence for members of the disabled community. Commissioner Tamley notes the role The Lighthouse has played in unveiling our Lighthouse on The Mag Mile Public Art Display this summer, which showcases the contributions that individuals with disabilities can make if given the chance to do so. We encourage Chicago area employers to visit our website, https://chicagolighthouse.org/programs-services/employment-training/ to see how they can utilize the talents of individuals who are blind, visually impaired, disabled and Veterans.
Twenty-eight years ago this month, the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of the most sweeping civil rights laws in the nation was signed into law. It was hard to fathom at the time how the stroke of President George H.W.’s pen could so significantly change the lives of millions of Americans with disabilities. But it did. People with disabilities can now move about and participate in their communities like never before, accessing public transportation, recreation, and public accommodations like stores, restaurants and movie theaters.
Despite significant progress, our community still faces enormous barriers to gaining employment. In Illinois, only 25% of people with disabilities are employed as compared to 75% for those without disabilities. Our community faces a poverty rate two times higher than those without disabilities.
The good news is that increasingly, employers are taking active steps to diversify their workforces by recruiting, hiring and including employees with disabilities. People with disabilities are beginning to be recognized as an untapped talent pool that can meet employers needs particularly in this strong economy and tightening labor market.
It is critical to the advancement of our community that we continue to shatter outdated stereotypes and misconceptions that have for too long, kept people with disabilities out of the mainstream.
The Chicago Lighthouse is doing just that. Last month they launched a display of fiberglass lighthouses along Michigan Avenue that are individually hand painted by artists with disabilities. They are not just beautiful pieces of artwork but public displays of the talents and the stories of a community that is too often unrecognized. Each lighthouse is storytelling through art that has the power to educate, shape public opinion and ignite a social change that can move our community closer to the ADA’s promise of equality, opportunity and independence. I hope you will take the time to stroll Michigan Avenue to see it for yourself.