The Disability Conversation in Every Conversation

“Without including a #DisabilityLens, you’re unlikely to ever resolve a lot of the issues we’re working to fix in society”: Former IL state rep Kathy Ryg prompts govt officials to talk about #disability–and helps provide the data to start the conversation Tweet This

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The Disabilities Fund created the Inform and Act factsheet series to initiate dialogue about tackling our region’s greatest challenges. To be successful, the disability community must be included. We aim to expand understanding and ensure that disability is recognized and taken into account at all our region’s tables.

Kathy Ryg, Disabilities Fund Advisory Board member and former Illinois State Representative, met with ADA 25 Advancing Leadership intern Emily Knopf to talk about why this work is important and what community members can do to be involved.


What if a simple sheet of paper could change the way that we intentionally include disability in our collective work?

People with disabilities make up approximately 10% of the Chicago region. As our population ages, those numbers will continue to grow. For regional solutions to succeed, they have to take into account this significant share of our population.

Issues that our politicians care about completely intersect with the issues affecting the disability community, such as poverty, education and employment. People with disabilities continue to have the lowest educational attainment and lowest employment rates of any minority group. As a result, the poverty rate is twice as high for people with disabilities compared to people without disabilities.

Kathy Ryg, who served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 2003 until 2009 representing the 59th district, wondered how this intersectionality could be simply conveyed to decision makers. Enter: The Disabilities Fund’s Inform and Act factsheet series.

“Without including a disability lens, I feel like you’re unlikely to ever really resolve a lot of the issues we’re working to fix in society. It means you haven’t looked at all the factors,” Ryg explains. In order for the social sector to truly be effective, we must recognize that addressing the needs of individuals with disabilities is not tangential to our work but essential to resolving the societal challenges that we are working against.

“Without including a disability lens, I feel like you’re unlikely to ever really resolve a lot of the issues we’re working to fix in society. It means you haven’t looked at all the factors.”

As part of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Ryg suggested outreach to the Metropolitan Mayor’s Caucus, which includes 272 mayors in the metropolitan Chicago region. She was surprised to see that disability was not in any of their legislative priority areas or initiatives. Based on her legislative experience with local municipalities and citizen commissions, Ryg asked the mayors to highlight the work of the ADA coordinators in their communities. They responded positively and have since been meeting regularly focusing on the work of the ADA coordinators. In this particular case, in order to include disability as part of their work, “all they needed was to be asked.”

“Data is important because decisions are so hard in terms of prioritizing limited resources,” says Ryg. “There are often great reports that are prepared and distributed, but you don’t always have the time and energy to really dig through and read a major report.” Creating the Inform and Act factsheet series is important because it presents an easy to use tool for decision makers to inform themselves and take action.

At the end of the day, the inclusion of people with disabilities “is a conversation that has to be a part of every conversation.” As Ryg explains, “That’s the beauty of what the Disabilities Fund does. It’s inviting people to learn and then do something about it—to inform and act.”


The Disabilities Fund’s Inform and Act factsheet presents critical data about disability throughout the Chicago region. How can you implement a #DisabilityLens in your work and improve outcomes? Tweet @ADA25AdvLeaders and share your plans.