SUMMER FESTIVALS HIGHLIGHT CHICAGO’S MOVE TO INCREASED ACCESSIBILITY AND INCLUSION
By: Michelle Boone, Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and Karen Tamley, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities
This weekend, as they have for the past 30 years, thousands of Chicago-area residents will fill Grant Park to listen to renowned and up-and-coming artists from across the country during Chicago’s Blues Festival. From picnic blankets and accessible seating, festival attendees will listen and watch performances on stages both large and small. But this year, as part of a citywide initiative to commemorate and leverage the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) has implemented a variety of initiatives to ensure that all people are equally equipped to enjoy the weekend.
More than one in 10 Illinoisans have some kind of disability – whether that disability is apparent, such as a vision or mobility impairment, or invisible, such as hearing loss or mental illness – we all have people with disabilities in our lives. From doctors and teachers to friends, colleagues, neighbors, family members, celebrities, public officials and more – disability is a natural part of the human experience.
The ADA is a civil rights milestone that ensures people with disabilities have equal rights to pursue personal, educational and professional ambitions and to participate fully in public life. In Chicago, a yearlong initiative called ADA 25 Chicago is bringing together more than 150 partners from the private, public, institutional and not-for-profit sectors to both celebrate progress made under the ADA over the past 25 years and to make longstanding commitments to expanding access and opportunity for people with disabilities throughout metropolitan Chicago.
The City of Chicago and DCASE were among ADA 25 Chicago’s first partners, with a firm commitment to improving accommodations for people with disabilities at many of Chicago’s festivals and events—including Blues and Jazz Fests this summer. Improvements will include more accessible seating, better sight lines and accessible routes through lawn areas; increased sign language interpretation and reserved seating for people who need access to the sign interpreter; more assistive listening devices; Braille programs; bathrooms and hand washing stations more prominent and accessible for people with disabilities; designated drop off and pick up areas for people with disabilities with direct access to the seating area; and disability etiquette training for permanent and festival staff. Both the Blues and Jazz Fests will also feature legendary performers with disabilities, including Clarence Carter, Henry Butler and Bobby Hutcherson.
These efforts to expand inclusion for people with disabilities in the life and work of our city are intended make Chicago more accessible and inclusive for everyone. We hope that Chicagoland residents will utilize and maximize the ADA’s 25th anniversary year to truly think about and act on the ways in which we can all promote greater inclusiveness for people with disabilities and disability accommodations in our everyday lives. We are greater together.
Michelle T. Boone is the Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), which presents and promotes high-quality free festivals, exhibitions, performances and holiday celebrations each year in parks, the historic Chicago Cultural Center, and other venues throughout the city. She was appointed to the post by Mayor Rahm Emanuel May 2011.
During her inaugural year as Commissioner, Michelle led the ambitious process for crafting a new Chicago Cultural Plan; it was released October 2012. The Plan includes over 240 initiatives to support 10 key priorities to guide Chicago’s cultural future. Michelle frequently does public speaking to share the Chicago Cultural Plan with municipalities across the globe.
Prior to her post as Commissioner, Michelle was the Senior Program Officer for Culture at the Joyce Foundation in Chicago, and prior to that was the director of Gallery 37, an award-winning job-training in the arts program for Chicago youth. Her professional career began in entertainment working in television, film, and the recording industry, and later she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Chad, Africa. Michelle holds a bachelor’s degree in Telecommunications and a master’s degree in Public Affairs (nonprofit management major) from Indiana University, Bloomington.
Karen Tamley was named Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) in March of 2005 by Richard M. Daley and reppointed by Mayor Rahm Emaunel in May of 2011. MOPD promotes full inclusion of people with all types of disabilities and strives to make Chicago the most accessible city in the nation.
In her role as Commissioner, Ms. Tamley leads numerous disability policy and accessibility compliance initiatives in key areas such as transportation, city infrastructure, emergency preparedness, housing, schools and technology. She also oversees the delivery of independent living services such as in-home supports, home accessibility modifications, amplified phones, and employment readiness to thousands of Chicagoans with disabilities. Commissioner Tamley serves as the City’s representative regarding disability related policy on a number of boards and committees, including the Pace Board of Directors, the region’s Paratransit service provider.
Under Commissioner Tamley’s leadership, Chicago received the Accessible America Award from the National Organization on Disability and for two years, MOPD was named “Best Government Department” by the Deaf Illinois.
For 15 years prior to her appointment, Tamley served in management, policy and advocacy roles at disability organizations in Washington D.C., Denver and Chicago. Prior to her appointment as Commissioner, she was the Director of Programs at Access Living a center for advocacy and services for people with disabilities in Chicago.
Commissioner Tamley earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley