Executive Director Emily Harris joined “MIX Matters” with Susan Wiencek on The Mix 101.9 FM to discuss ADA 25 Chicago.

101.9 FM September 27, 2015


By: Daniel X. O’Neil, Executive Director for Smart Chicago

I was a teenager in the 1980’s and remember disability activists taking over bus routes and rolling in front of buses in acts of civil disobedience. There was one specific time when I was waiting to get on a bus and activists blocked it from leaving the stop. It was an astounding personal experience for me to witness; they were using the same methods of protests from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and many other human rights movements throughout the world.

I have always been interested in civic data and how government agencies interact with residents. Throughout my career as a technologist, I’ve done a lot work with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) around transit apps, focusing on bus tracking technology. In 2005, I started a rider-to-rider communications system called CTA Alerts that allowed riders to communicate route updates with each other via text, which the CTA helped to implement.

Through my work with the CTA, I became aware of a connection between the data used for bus tracking technologies and a lawsuit filed by Access Living in 2000 against the CTA to provide equal access to people with disabilities on its trains and buses. The consent decree filed with the federal government required bus drivers to call out audibly every single bus stop, which worked… but wasn’t optimal.

The CTA came up with a better method: the Global Positioning System (GPS) for buses in order to determine where the bus was and signal an automated machine announcement of every stop. That system is now the basis for every single transit app and transit data innovation in the United States. I wish there wasn’t a 20-year gap between technologists’ understanding of the needs of people with disabilities and the implementation of technology that addresses the basic human rights those activists I witnessed years earlier were fighting for.

When it comes to technology, we see again and again that there is no difference between accessibility, usability and good product design. Technologies like Cascading Style Sheets, which set the basic rules for the display of web pages, and swipe technology that allows a user to continue to type on their cell phone without lifting their finger off the screen, started out as innovations meant for people with disabilities but are useful to everyone. Describing technology as “accessible” and thinking that it is only designed for people with disabilities is an artificial distinction. Creating accessible technology makes it better for everyone.

Because in order to fulfill our mission of improving lives in Chicago through technology, we must think about all Chicagoans. What really matters is that we embed the principles of serving everyone into everything we do; people with disabilities happen to fall into the certain subset of human beings that is everyone. That is the way Smart Chicago thinks about our work—not as doing accessibility work, but as serving the greater community.

That’s why we—Smart Chicago—are partnering with ADA 25 Chicago, which is leveraging the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities in Chicago in four key areas: education, employment, community inclusion and technology. Technology, in particular, has played a crucial role in the first 25 years since the ADA, and everyone in Chicago has benefited from the innovations it’s brought about—though they may not realize it.

Dan O'Neil bio pic

Daniel X. O’Neil is the Executive Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization devoted to making lives better in Chicago through technology.

Prior to the Smart Chicago, O’Neil was a co-founder of and People Person for EveryBlock, a neighborhood news and discussion site serving 16 cities. He was responsible for uncovering new data sets through online research and working with local governments. In August 2009 EveryBlock was purchased by msnbc.com. After acquisition, O’Neil ran Business Development for EveryBlock, working on advertising, content partnerships, and integration with the core msnbc.com site. During this time period, O’Neil participated in the open data/ open government movement, advising governments and candidates on policy.

Prior to EveryBlock, O’Neil spent 10 years as an Internet strategist and project manager for Streams Online Media, one of the first web design firms in Chicago. He continued this work at Dunn Solutions Group after their purchase of Streams in 2001, with a focus on technology requirements training and the development of Web-based tools for training, e-commerce, and content management. He also created a number of sites for municipalities, including the first Web site for the Chicago Inspector General, the person in charge of rooting out corruption in Chicago city government.

Since 2002 he’s run a number of independent Web projects, including CTA Alerts/ CTA Tweet and CityPayments.org. He’s developed dozens of Web sites for nonprofits, schools, and small businesses using easy-to-use and inexpensive tools such as weblogs, wikis, and social networking sites. In June of 2011 he was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change for Technology and Innovation.

O’Neil has a degree in English and Anthropology from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This article was originally posted on the Chicago Community Trust website, and can be viewed by clicking here.

“Legendary Jazz musicians advocate on disability issues in Chicago”

Jazz Artists Henry Butler and Fred Hersch participate in Jazz Fest and community programming in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Chicago Crusader September 19, 2015


According to the World Health Organization, mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the millions of Americans living with these “invisible” illnesses from discrimination, just like it ensures the rights of people with more visible disabilities.

But according to Mark Ishaug, the CEO of Thresholds, one of Illinois’ largest providers of healthcare services for persons with mental illness, “Those with a hidden disability like mental illness are often forgotten when we talk about disability.”

“Since one in four Americans is personally affected by a mental health challenge at some point in their lives, it’s pretty clear that we all need the protection and access to employment and economic self-sufficiency promised by this civil rights law.” This is why Ishaug and Thresholds advocate for the ADA 25 Chicago theme and goal of recognizing disability as a natural part of the human experience.

In addition to his role at Thresholds, Ishaug serves on the steering committee of ADA 25 Chicago, a regional partner network of more than 160 organizations dedicated to advancing access and inclusion for people with disabilities to commemorate this year’s 25th anniversary of the ADA.

Ishaug is also a founding member of the Kennedy Forum Illinois, which was founded last year to end stigma against mental health and substance abuse disorders.

“We need to change the hearts and minds of people living in Illinois to truly understand the implications of mental illness, because stigma, and the effects associated with it, are killing people,” said Ishaug.

Ishaug’s passion for unveiling the hidden truth about invisible disabilities, including mental illness, is both professional and personal. He lost a brother and numerous friends and colleagues to battles with mental illness.

The Kennedy Forum, which brings together a cross-sector group of leaders from all industries, aims to address stigma in the media, at work, in schools and even within families. According to a recent statewide survey by The Forum, roughly one-third of adults with mental health conditions feel they have been treated unfairly because of their condition, either at work, when looking for housing or in the healthcare system. Yet social stigma—and the accompanying fear of rejection, discrimination and being ostracized—are huge barriers to getting the protection they need because it would require self-disclosure of their disability.

“The fight to end the stigma and improve access and inclusion for people with mental health challenges is so broad—conditions vary significantly in gravity and visibility—and the consequences of stigma are great,” said Ishaug. “At the Kennedy Forum, we are working to educate and change the conversation around mental health in all its forms.”

To leverage the 25th anniversary year of the ADA, Ishaug is championing commitments from Thresholds, the Kennedy Forum and others to help increase awareness and advance inclusion and accessibility for all people with disabilities, but particularly those with serious mental health conditions.

“It is vital to ensure that the mental health community is represented in efforts to realize, improve and expand upon the promises made by the ADA,” said Ishaug. “If we, as ADA 25 Chicago and as a City, hope to ensure everyone with disabilities live full and independent lives, we must remember people with disabilities that we cannot see often face discrimination and that the battle to overcome stigma is just another frontier of civil rights.”

Mark Ishaug bio pic

Mark Ishaug’s 25 years of leadership in healthcare advocacy and service provision have centered on building public/private partnerships and dismantling stigma and discrimination among vulnerable populations. During his tenure at Thresholds, the agency has grown from 900 to 1200 employees, and the number of persons served has increased 17% from 6,100 to 7,145. As mental health services are now bolstered by more effective services that include community interventions and coordinated healthcare in addition to life-changing medications, Ishaug’s work is focused on bringing mental health policy in line with clinical best practices. At a time of historical opportunity for Illinois behavioral healthcare, he has established Thresholds as a leader in shaping housing, Medicaid managed care, and other policies that will create a better mental health safety net for our most vulnerable citizens.

This article was originally posted on the Chicago Community Trust website, and can be viewed by clicking here.

“Activists push those with HIV, AIDS to know their ADA rights”

CHICAGO (WLS) — They are topics that most people don’t easily connect: HIV/AIDS and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

ABC 7 Chicago September 13, 2015

“Greater Together: Cultural Accessibility Summit”

Experts describe how accessibility and inclusion is both good for the community—and good for business at Chicago’s first Cultural Accessibility Summit held in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

CAN TV September 9, 2015

“MUSIC Legendary jazz artist plays and shares his life”

On the eve of a performance before thousands of fans at the Chicago Jazz Festival, Fred Hersch told a more intimate audience at the Center on Halsted Sept. 3 that when he publishes his memoir, the title will be “Good Things Happen Slowly.”

Windy City Times September 9, 2015

“President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts”

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Barack Obama announced the appointment of the following individuals to key Administration posts:

White House Press Office September 8, 2015

“Tickets to Harris Theater Family Series Now on Sale”

The Harris Theater today announced the performances of its popular Exelon Family Series for the 2015-2016 season. Established in 2008, Exelon Family Series programs provide unique learning opportunities for families to experience world-class performances at the Harris, at affordable prices. This season’s series includes one of the world’s most celebrated ensembles for performers with and without disabilities, AXIS Dance Company; the Family Series premiere of the world renowned Kronos Quartet; and the Harris Theater debut of the fanciful C!RCA: Carnival of the Animals.

Broadway World Chicago September 8, 2015

“Illinois Issues: Does The ADA Work?”

Twenty-five years after the landmark federal law, people with disabilities in Illinois still have trouble getting hired.

Bob Peterson wants to work in the community rather than in a sheltered workshop for people with disabilities. In that Aurora program, he spends five hours a day putting components for gutters into plastic bags. Rather than a set wage, he is paid by the piece.

WUIS September 3, 2015

“Your comprehensive guide to the 37th annual Chicago Jazz Festival”

Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians turned 50 in 2015, and celebrations of this influential collective have been popping off worldwide all year—here in town, exhibits honoring the AACM’s impact have opened at the DuSable Museum of African American History and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The 37th annual Chicago Jazz Festival marks this auspicious anniverary with performances by four AACM-related groups: Douglas Ewart & Inventions, the Jeff Parker Trio, Steve & Iqua Colson, and Muhal Richard Abrams’s Experimental Band. The Experimental Band set—Sunday’s marquee event and the capstone of the festival—features most of the AACM’s greatest living figures, including Henry Threadgill, Roscoe Mitchell, George Lewis, Wadada Leo Smith, and Amina Claudine Myers.

Chicago Reader September 2, 2015

“37th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival, September 3-6”

The 37th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival will take place in Millennium Park and at the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington Street), September 3-6, showcasing the very best of jazz music from noon to 9:30 pm daily. This free admission festival is produced by Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and programmed by the Jazz Institute of Chicago (JIC). Culminating on Labor Day Weekend, the festival’s programming celebrates both the mainstream of the national jazz scene as well as Chicago’s unique contributions to the art form. The Chicago Jazz Festival has historically made a special point of placing its own distinctly Chicago artistic stamp on the musical proceedings.

Jazz Police September 2, 2015

“The ADA at 25 – A Legal Tool for Social Change”

In 1990, Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide comprehensive civil rights protection to people with disabilities in all aspects of life, including employment, state and local government services, public transportation and private businesses.

CBA Record July/August 2015