Americans celebrate their independence from Great Britain on July 4. But for people with disabilities, July 26 is an equally important independence day, because on that date in 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. The ADA is a piece of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same employment opportunities, shopping experience, and ability to participate in government programs and services as everyone else. 

At their annual meeting on June 23 at the Park District of Forest Park, some 55 friends and members of the Progress Center for Independent Living (PCIL) celebrated 30 years of advocacy and support of people with disabilities. 

Larry Biondi, advocacy coordinator at the Progress Center, summarized the group’s history and accomplishments over the last three decades, relying heavily on the notes from the first director, Robin Ann Jones.  He noted that his organization was created in 1988, just two years before the passage of the ADA and that, at first, the Progress Center struggled to get funding and get organized. The Progress Center was the first organization to serve people with disabilities across all of suburban Cook County. Biondi acknowledged the important role former Illinois Senate President Phil Rock played in the birth of the Progress Center, as he helped generate funding for the group. 

“The Progress center was needed because our service area was and still is huge,” said Biondi. “Just think about this — 138 municipalities, including Forest Park.” 

The Progress Center moved its main office to 7521 Madison St. in 1996, and has since expanded from two staff members in 1988 to 15 staff today. More than 130 people have joined the group as members. Its service area is suburban Cook County, where approximately 450,000 people with disabilities are living. The Progress Center aims to advocate, provide independent living skills training, peer support and mentoring and more. 

Over the past 30 years, the Progress Center has moved more than 250 people out of nursing homes and into the community; helped register people to vote; encouraged businesses, particularly those along Madison Street, to become accessible and assisting them to do so; and more. 

At the annual meeting, the following members were elected to the Progress Center board: Susan Becker, a former preschool teacher who always advocated for inclusivity; Michael Henson, who taught independent living skills for 28 years; George Aponte, who works as a vocational rehabilitation counselor at the Department for Veteran’s Affairs; and Steve Taylor, who hosts a radio show and worked for three years assisting people who are blind and disabled at the State Library of Louisiana.