This content originally appeared in the July 30th, 2020 print edition of The Smart Reader.
1964 Civil Rights Law wasn’t inclusive: Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
When the Civil Rights Act was signed into law in 1964, it wasn’t written to protect persons with disabilities. Nor was the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1970 called for wheelchair lifts in mass transit vehicles. However, transit results weren’t seen for another 20 years.
In the 1970s there were, however, many people working to bring disability rights and accessibility to Kenosha County.
At the time, Carol Schaufel, now retired from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, was involved with a group in Kenosha called ABLE (Abolish Barriers to Lifetime Efficiencies). Started by the late Eddie Buttera, a Kenosha disability rights activist who had Spina Bifida, ABLE not only impacted and shaped the results in Kenosha but led to change throughout Wisconsin.
“There were a lot of people who worked to make Kenosha more accessible during those early years,” Schaufel said. “Eddie Buttera and Frank Marelli, a Kenosha business owner and disability rights activist, went to the City Council to get approval for curb-cuts. Eddie also got the funding. We had problems with the first few curb-cuts because the slope was too steep, but the problem was resolved quickly. Later we added the bumps (tactile warning devices or otherwise known as truncated domes) so visually impaired people could tell where the end of the sidewalk was to protect them from accidently walking into traffic.”
“While we were working on changes in buildings, such as entrances and restrooms, we realized there weren’t any size or weight restrictions on elevators, so we worked to get that changed too,” continued Schaufel. “Frank was instrumental in getting many of these changes in place, including the ramp at the post office.”
“Frank was someone who lent his voice for people with disabilities,” said Senator Robert Wirch of Marrelli. He used his influence with politicians to get things done, resulting in positive changes. It was easier after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990.”
New to the Senate in 1996, Senator Robert Wirch was not new to working in local government. Having spent eight years on the Kenosha County Board, beginning in 1986, Wirch served on both the Health and Human Services and the Welfare boards. He also worked in the assembly for two years prior to his Senate election.
“I had a firsthand look at the struggles persons with disabilities faced. The ADA brought empowerment to people with disabilities. They had been battling for their rights for years,” shared Wirch. “They finally felt that they were citizens and the government was coming to help them. The ADA was source of pride for people with disabilities. Carol Schaufel, Eddie Buttera and Frank Marrelli were instrumental in the changes we saw in Kenosha.”
Schaufel concluded, “1983-1992 was called the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons. Kenosha has done a really good job on accessibility; however, we still have to work on attitudes. We need to look at what people can do, instead of what they can’t do, if we did, we would have a lot more people working.”
ABLE helped raise Kenosha’s awareness of, and commitment to accessibility. We can honor and celebrate their members’ work and the groundwork of the ADA by renewing and strengthening our resolve for inclusion—in school activities, voting, employment– and dining out (let’s reconsider bar-height tables and step-up booths).
The Corona pandemic has been particularly hard on disabled and older citizens, but it has also opened our eyes to new ways of engaging people who are mobility-challenged or chronically isolated. With commitment and creativity, we have a great opportunity to build on the legacy of those before us.
This July we celebrate the momentous victory of the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Let’s continue to work toward improved civil rights for everyone.
By Paula J. Clark,
Community Outreach Coordinator,
Kenosha County Aging & Disability Resource Center
Virtual Memory Café
Virtual Memory Café is a place for persons with Mild Cognitive Impairment, early-stage Alzheimer’s, or related dementia, and their care partners to socialize and have fun, all from the comfort of your home! Meetings are held the 2nd Tuesday of each month.
Please join us for a Virtual Memory Café on Tuesday, August 11, 1 – 2 p.m..
Registration is required. Once registered, you will receive connection instructions. Please call the Alzheimer’s Association at 800-272-3900.
Free Online Dementia 101 program offered
The Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC), together with the Kenosha Public Library, is offering Dementia 101, a FREE online, dementia related program, on Saturday, August 8, 2020, 1 – 2:30 p.m.
Susan Johnson, Dementia Care Specialist with the ADRC, will present practical information for those who care for, or care about, someone with dementia. Learn the basics of normal memory loss, mild cognitive impairment and different types of dementia. Discover useful resources that help make sense of a complex topic. Call the Kenosha Public Library at 262-564-6130 to register and to receive information on how to connect to the class.
Savvy Caregiver Training Program
Free online class for family caregivers of persons with dementia
The Kenosha County Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC) together with the Alzheimer’s Association, is offering a free, online, professional-level training for the non-professional caregiver. The classes run on Wednesdays, beginning August 19 – September 23, 2020, from 2 – 4 p.m.
During this 6-week training, participants will gain knowledge to manage daily care of their loved one, skills to assess the abilities of their family member and to learn how to adjust the approach if needed, plus the confidence to set and achieve caregiving goals. A caregiver manual and online caregiving tools will also be provided. The Savvy Caregiver training is free to Kenosha County residents.
For more information, or to register and receive information on how to connect to the class, please call Susan Johnson, Dementia Care Specialist, with the Kenosha County ADRC at 262-605-6602.