On the one hand, when people see me going up Madison Street with my walker and hear me speaking with a slur, they tend to think, “There goes a person with a disability.”

On the other hand, Dan Haley, who publishes the Review and Wednesday Journal, pays me to write articles and columns like this one. From his point of view, I’m a person with an ability.

We all, of course, are a mixture of abilities and disabilities. The task for all of us is to find a place in life where we can use our abilities and where our disabilities don’t get in the way.

The Progress Center for Independent Living (PCIL) website states that it is an “organization operated for people with disabilities by people with disabilities.” From my point of view as I sit on PCIL’s Community Partners Committee, it’s an organization operated for people with abilities by people with abilities.

The following three initiatives reveal that people associated with PCIL aren’t sitting in their wheelchairs feeling sorry for themselves, but rather are ably taking charge of their own well-being.

Job fair

On Thursday, May 19, PCIL will be hosting a jobs fair from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Forest Park Community Center. Sara Capetillo, M.S., M.A., is PCIL’s Bilingual Employment Advocate. She has put together a data base of some of her agency’s clients which lists their abilities. Business owners can come to the fair with the needs of their businesses in mind and see if anyone in the data base meets those needs.

The folks with abilities in the data base, of course, also have disabilities. What is amazing at this point in history is what technology has enabled disabled folks to do. My bifocal glasses are a low-tech example of how technology has enabled this farsighted retiree to continue reading. 

Horacio Esperza, PCIL’s director, is a better example. Esparza is blind, but he has a machine that translates print on his computer screen into audible words he can hear, which makes him as functional as any of us when it comes to email.

Likewise, at first glance most people notice that Capetillo is in a wheelchair and is using a ventilator to breathe. Don’t let those “superficial” characteristics fool you because they haven’t prevented her from earning two master’s degrees. Her job at the Progress Center fits her abilities, and she is a productive member of their staff. What’s more, the state will often pay for any modifications that need to be made. People can contact Sara at 708-209-1500 x39 or scapetillo@progresscil.org.

Pumpkin pie and the budget impasse

“Outrage” is too mild a word to describe the reaction the PCIL staff had to the news that the Illinois state legislature got bipartisan support to pass a bill, which the governor signed, making pumpkin pie the official state pie, while failing to pass a budget. That fiscal failure in Springfield has forced PCIL to lay off six staff members and to close the PCIL office on Fridays.

The staff responded by drafting a full-page letter to Rauner, Madigan, Durkin, Cullerton and Christine Radogno, which they are urging all Review readers to download, sign and send. Click on http://progresscil.org to download the letter and see addresses. Email Clark Craig ccraig@progresscil.org or Sara Capetillo scapetillo@progresscil.org for more information.

Co-sponsoring the Boykin bill

PCIL is also pursuing political activism by co-sponsoring a bill being submitted by Cook County Commisioner Richard Boykin which would create an Office for People with Disabilities. Boykin’s office on Madison Street in Forest Park issued the following statement:

“Individuals with disabilities are welcome and valuable members of the community of Cook County. As such, the Office for People with Disabilities will be established to better satisfy essential needs and advance the well-being of people with disabilities. The increase in gunshot victims in Cook County has led to a greater number of individuals becoming permanently disabled. The office will provide a strong voice for people with disabilities and connect them to available county resources.”