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Disabled Women We're Honored To Know

Disability Lead
March 29, 2023

As we close out Women's History Month, we dipped back into the Disability Lead archives to highlight a few disabled women in our Network who we're honored to know:

When Karen Tamley, CEO of Access Living, started preschool in 1970, disabled children were still sent to segregated schools. In this story, she recalls how finally being able to go to the neighborhood school—after the "Education for All Handicapped Children Act" became law—was a pivotal moment that inspired her path toward becoming a disability rights advocate.

"I still clearly remember feeling terrified on that early September morning when my mom put me on that empty yellow school bus...As the bus drove up the hill, away from my house, I sat in my rear-facing booster seat with tears streaming down my cheeks, crying out for my mom as she grew smaller and smaller in the distance."

Joyce Otuwa, an attorney at the State of Illinois Attorney General's Office Civil Rights Bureau, did not always know how to reconcile her experiences of mental illness with taking pride in her advocacy for disability rights. She discusses her journey to distinguish her mental illness from the rest of who she is as a person here.

"Disability is layered and dynamic. There is no 'one size fits all' in the understanding of one’s journey and identity."

Kira Meskin Schiff is a Community Reintegration Advocate at the Progress Center for Independent Living. After the pandemic started, she became Vice Chairperson of the Access and Functional Needs Advisory Committee, a new task force under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency that she helped establish in 2021. Read on to find out how she helps lead a coalition that gets personal protective equipment to disabled people, the Progress Center’s support and involvement, and how this work transformed into an opportunity to help draft and pass state legislation.

"We realized that existing emergency response efforts were not addressing the needs of the disability community."

Michelle Friedman has served her community in lay leadership positions for over 30 years. When she got a job at Access Living, it was the first time she felt "like everyone else." This is her story of how the power of belonging changed her life.

"Today, some 40 years later, I really do not understand how I failed to identify myself as a disabled person then...The stigma associated with that identification was something I abhorred."
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