Disability Organizing Network And Independent Living Centers Focus On Building Accessible Communities

Jul 16, 2013, 14:50 ET from California State Independent Living Council (SILC)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., July 16, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- As the disability community prepares to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 2013, efforts to make the law a reality are still being forged throughout California with support from the State Independent Living Council (SILC). The Disability Organizing Network (DOnetwork) is an alliance of California's 28 Independent Living Centers (ILCs), which are leading and organizing their local areas to build accessible communities.

Through the DOnetwork, ILCs have mobilized more than 260 people with disabilities and allies to participate in five Access Now Power Summits in Northern, Central and Southern California. Communities have developed campaign plans that emphasize local and regionally based efforts to ensure ADA access is integrated into systems of healthcare, housing, education, transportation and more!

"ILCs play a crucial role in working with their local communities to improve access and safety for individuals living with disabilities," said SILC Executive Director Liz Pazdral. "The way to achieve this is through real systems change that is embraced by everyone in the community."

Ted Jackson, Statewide Organizer for the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers' DOnetwork agrees with Pazdral, "We are making great progress in breaking down barriers, raising awareness and ensuring community members know their rights, but we still have a way to go to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities as intended by the ADA."

One example of an ILC creating change is the work of the Center for Independence of Individuals with Disabilities (CID) located in San Mateo. CID serves San Mateo County and assists more than 3,400 individuals with disabilities in systems advocacy and individual issues. One way CID accomplishes this is through the Know Your Rights trainings, which are intended to provide education and information about the ADA and other pertinent acts such as the Fair Employment and Housing Act intended to protect individuals with disabilities. A desired outcome of the trainings is to build a core group of activists who understand legal and regulatory issues, such as the ADA, and can advocate for themselves and others.

"Knowledge is a powerful tool to fight discrimination and oppression," said CID Systems Change Advocate Shayla Walsh. "Knowing your rights is the number one priority in fighting for systems change."

Twelve community members attended the CID-hosted training workshop conducted by Disability Rights California (DRC) attorney Fred Nisen. The workshop covered topics such as the five Titles of the ADA; entities exempt from the ADA; the definition of public accommodations; what are discrimination and accessibility; reasonable modifications to Title III public accommodations and more. CID plans to work with DRC to replicate the workshop in the fall.

"The workshops have been effective in empowering individuals by sharing information and experiences," explained Walsh. "They bring together individuals living with disabilities in San Mateo County to discuss their rights and discrimination as well as learn about the laws. Individuals leave with an understanding of how to navigate within the law and recognize when their rights are being infringed upon."

Workshops are just one of the effective tools CID employs. According to CID Executive Director David DeNola, "We have instituted an expanded effort whereby each person in the organization is responsible for outreach. We regularly go into the community and represent CID at many functions. By getting everyone involved in the community, our team is coalescing and morale is increasing. In essence, we're role modeling the advocacy we promote in our trainings."

DeNola goes on to explain, "We are an advocacy organization and strive to be advocates 'par excellence' by staying at the forefront. Everyone at CID is trained in outreach and learns from others about what they do, whether they are experts on housing or transportation or another area. We keep it very didactic and alive."

The workshops have been an effective tool to re-energize CID's consumers. For example, some workshop participants organized a separate committee on accessibility, which is focused on making San Mateo a more accessible county. Efforts like these deepen awareness and knowledge to keep the enforcement of significant laws, like the ADA, at the forefront of systems change.

The California State Independent Living Council (SILC) is an independent state agency which, in cooperation with the California State Department of Rehabilitation, prepares and monitors the State Plan for Independent Living.

The SILC Mission: To Create Policy and System Change for Independent Living  

SOURCE California State Independent Living Council (SILC)