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By: Jennifer L. Lee
As a Ruderman Social Justice in Disability Scholar, I had the amazing opportunity of interning last summer with Stavros Center for Independent Living in Springfield Massachusetts. As an individual with a disability and an advocate for disability rights, my internship placement at Stavros was a perfect fit. As an organization, Stavros provides a multitude of services to fit the needs of an individual despite their age or disability.
One of the services they offer is assessing architectural barriers within residential facilities, businesses and the community within the Pioneer Valley area. During the summer, I worked alongside Stavros’s Access Specialist, Andy Bristol and as an Access Specialist Intern, I helped to address access disparities for people with disabilities. I was given the opportunity to address access issues in many public places including hotels, newly renovated facilities and locations nominated for the 2014 Access Awards. The Access Awards is an annual awards luncheon that works to honor people and businesses that work to create an accessible environment for people with disabilities. 2014 Access Award nominees are nominated by recipients of Stavros services and members of the Pioneer Valley community. I assisted with the visiting, evaluating and compiling detailed notes for all 2014 Access Award nominees.
In addition to preparing for the 2014 Access Awards, I also assisted and co-facilitated the Disability Action Network meetings. These meetings work to bring advocates and members of the disability community together to discuss access issues within their community and surrounding areas. These meetings strive to provide insight, supports and resources necessary for improving access.
I also had the liberty of completing independent projects such as creating the first Handicap Parking Application for the Ludlow Council on Disability, creating a compiled list of tax incentives and deductions for small businesses that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and Architectural Access Board (AAB) standards. Moreover, this internship experience allowed me to become more knowledgeable about access issues within my community and beyond. Even after my internship, I continue to advocate for equal access for people with disabilities. My hope is to apply what I have learned this summer to create a list of recommendations for improving accessibility on the Brandies campus.
Despite Stavros’s mission, the help of advocates and the efforts of people with disabilities, people with disabilities continue to face architectural barriers within their communities. This is a huge issue for people with disabilities because it reinforces community isolation and limits their ability to work, socialize and live productive, independent lives. Even after the 25th anniversary of the ADA advocates such as myself, organizations such as Stavros and other disability-centered organizations continue to have to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities within their communities. My internship experience made it crystal clear that community inclusion of people with disabilities cannot be adequately achieved without addressing the architectural boundaries that hinder access for people with disabilities in everyday life.