By John Samuel, Chief Innovation Architect
On July 30th, we held the “What’s the Deal with disABILITIES: The Triangle Celebrates 30 Years of the ADA.“ The idea of this event came from the planning for the Employer Resource Day for the Raleigh mayor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities. I was responsible for putting on the event this year, but as things started to change as a result of COVID-19, it seemed the event wasn’t going to happen.
Traditionally the Employer Resource Day was planned around the ADA anniversary and this year was a big one – it was the 30th! That’s when I was reminded that the ADA wasn’t necessarily a result of the work of a few individuals, but rather of partners and allies who came together to pass this landmark bill.
As I discussed this idea with a few partners, there was overwhelming interest to participate and we were able to bring members of the Raleigh Mayor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities, Raleigh chamber, Capital Area Workforce Development Board (CAWD), Bearing, Walk West, and myself from LCI to form a planning committee. And to my surprise, we put together an amazing lineup and successful virtual event that had over 150 people participate!
When assembling participants for the panel and identifying a keynote speaker, we wanted to make sure that we had voices from across the disability community.
One of the first names that came to mind for me was Mike Thor, better known as Thor, who is the co-owner of Whiskey Kitchen, a wildly popular bar and restaurant in Raleigh. It was just 9 months earlier that Thor and I realized we had a common connection in a mutual friend, Liam Chandran. Thor and Liam were best friends growing up in the Triangle, and Liam and I lived together in 2007 when I was in Bangalore, India. However, Thor and I never met each other or knew of this connection until we met at an event last November when Thor spoke on a panel focused on accessibility for restaurants. I thought he would make a great keynote for our event.
In 2015, Thor was working toward opening up Whiskey kitchen when he got into a terrible motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed and now part of the disability community. He shared his story about how he hated the regulations that were required when he was renovating the old building which would become Whiskey kitchen. It was only after the accident that he understood and appreciated why the ADA is so important.
The combination of his story, which showed me that we never know when we may develop a disability, plus his authenticity, which made me feel like I was talking with an old friend, resulted in a new level of empathy for the challenges that others in the disability community face.
As a person who is blind, it’s easy to focus on the challenges I have to overcome each day. But like Thor, I developed my disability later in life. Prior to going blind, I didn’t have an appreciation for the ADA and disability inclusion. My hope is that by sharing the stories of people like Thor and myself, we can raise the awareness of the rights and needs of people with disabilities, without them ever having to be directly impacted by it.
If you missed out on the virtual event, don’t worry, you can check it out here! And don’t forget to ask us how Ablr is changing the mindsets of people and organizations with our training modules and consultation services. Send us an email at email@example.com and connect with a member of our team!