30 Years of ADA

Coeur d’Alene celebrates equal opportunities for those with disabilities

By Taylor Shillam

This month, Coeur d’Alene celebrates progress, inclusion, opportunity and equality.

October 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a comprehensive piece of civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. The ADA provides standards for the workplace and ensures equal access to health care, social services, telecommunication and transportation.


On July 16, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer signed a proclamation celebrating the act and confirming the city’s commitment to providing the most integrated, least restrictive environments possible for those with disabilities and their families.


The local disability community is supported by the Disability Action Center NW, the center for independent living that serves Coeur d’Alene. With three offices in Idaho, the DAC-NW has used its collective power to provide information and referral services while creating a compassionate, accessible environment.


By promoting policies, environments and attitudes of freedom and equality, the DAC-NW works to encourage people with disabilities to take control, gain independence and live life to the fullest.


Most of the DAC-NW staff members and volunteers have a disability, so they can directly empathize with the hurdles faced by those they serve.


DCA-NW Transitional Specialist Michelle Porter has devoted years to making independent life more accessible for people with disabilities.


With seven years of experience with the DAC and 25 years of personal experience using a wheelchair, Porter has worked to make homes, transportation and parking more accessible in the Coeur d’Alene area. Most recently, she has been working closely with the Coeur d’Alene Parks and Recreation department to ensure the city is ADA accessible, such as the creation of a ramp that enables a person in a wheelchair to enter water and enjoy it comfortably.


“The ramp goes into the water, is new and represents years of work,” said Disability Action Center NW marketing specialist Vicki Leeper. “It enables a person in a wheelchair to actually get into the water—this way a person with a wheelchair can toss a ball out into the water for their dog, get into the water and more. We love working with the City of Coeur d’Alene.”


From its humble beginning in 1993, the DAC-NW has come a long way from a nonprofit struggling to maintain its grant funding. Now with office buildings in Moscow, Lewiston and Post Falls, the nonprofit is strong and set to serve the Inland Northwest.


Local independent living centers for the Disability Action Center NW have provided outreach, training and technical assistance to promote voluntary compliance with the ADA. Their efforts align with the founding purpose of the ADA, ensuring people with disabilities have better access to buildings, businesses, programs and services, and employment.


Mark Leeper, executive director of DAC-NW, is determined to keep the momentum going.


“Despite progress over the past 30 years, people with disabilities still have higher poverty rates and lower employment and educational outcomes than those without disabilities,” Leeper has stated, emphasizing that the work is not over.


The DAC-NW has adapted their celebration of the 30th anniversary to keep up with current safety protocols. Although many meetings have gone virtual this year, the organization remains available to provide steady support. Independent living advocates are staffed and ready to take calls or messages to provide supportive listening, suggestions and service-related information.


Partnering with other independent living centers around the state, as well as the Northwest ADA Center - Idaho, they have launched an online celebration that runs through October to encompass the duration of National Disability Awareness Month.


Chronicled on their Facebook page ADA 30 Idaho, the ongoing celebration has included interviews with prominent “movers and shakers” in the independent living movement, the design and print of over 1,800 commemorative T-shirts, and a free mask decorating contest.


This celebration builds on a summer of socially distant community events, like the popular ADA Rocks event in Moscow on August 26. Staff members hid specially painted ADA rocks around the community to highlight accessible features. Those who found a rock could bring it to the event for a free shirt, mask and hot dog. Over 100 were served that day, and a summary of the event will be presented to Moscow’s Mayor Bill Lambert at the end of the month to close the anniversary celebration.


For more chances to connect with the disability community, you can opt online for more of the DAC-NW’s virtual events, workshops and educational opportunities.


On October 7 at noon, disability attorney and advocate Stephanie Woodward will present “Stop Telling Me I’m Pretty for a Girl in a Wheelchair: How Your Words Can Contribute to Domestic Violence Against Women.”


As a disabled woman herself, Woodward has actively fought to advance the rights and freedoms of the disability community. Part of a series intended to provide a platform for underrepresented voices within the disability community, the virtual event is co-hosted by the WSU Access Center and the Disabled Students and Allies Club (DSAAC), and sponsored by the WSU Women’s Center. The free series is offered via Zoom, with live captioning included.


The series will continue with Black Disability in Resistance and Creating on October 14 at noon.


Those participating socially distanced live events can join the DAC-NW at the Community Business Fair on October 7 at Post Falls’ Greyhound Park and Event Center from 4 to 7pm. The DAC-NW will be one of several businesses gathering to serve the local area. The fair is a perfect chance to connect with community members and learn more about the services and staff behind the DAC-NW.


The world gets a little brighter as more of us become able to experience it fully, and equally. Follow along this month as Coeur d’Alene celebrates equal opportunities and the ongoing impact made by the American Disabilities Act after 30 years.

Learn more about the DAC-NW’s events, initiatives and volunteer opportunities at DACNW.org or on their Facebook page, ADA 30 Idaho.