On November 16, I attended the Equip for Equality "Evening for Equality" at the Chicago Renaissance Hotel with the Abou Ezzi family. Equip for Equality is a non-profit organization which advocates for the civil and legal rights of people with disabilities. Dave Savini, an investigative reporter from CBS Channel Two News, was the emcee. "I have been involved with Equip for Equality since 1999, when I
investigated a case involving a student that was padlocked in a
time-out closet in an Illinois school," said Dave. "Equip for Equality
helped get a law passed that changed the rules on the use of time-outs
in Illinois schools." Dave has worked on several other news segments championing people with disabilities and bringing attention to the barriers that exist for people with disabilities.
During the time that I founded and ran Illinois Hands & Voices, I referred families to Equip for Equality and that is how I met the Abou Ezzi family. Tony Abou Ezzi, who is hard of hearing, attended a local high school that was not providing him full communication access in his classes. I assisted the family in advocating for real-time captioning in the classroom and Tony used the service for two years in high school. Equip for Equality took up the same fight for access when a local college balked at providing the service. Today, Tony is enrolled in law school and is working to become a lawyer. I became more involved with Equip for Equality when I was denied service in a local drive-thru two years ago. I worked with Howard Rosenblum, a deaf attorney from Equip for Equality, to break down barriers in the drive-thru and implement some changes in the way deaf and hard of hearing persons were served at that establishment. Shortly after the drive-thru incident, Howard connected me with Patrick Hughes, Jr. who is the owner of Inclusion Solutions and co-chairperson of the annual Equip for Equality event. Patrick is a man with a big heart and a passion for breaking down barriers and creating a more accessible world for and with people with disabilities. He devotes his time to the annual Equip fundraiser because he believes strongly in the idea of social and legal change. "Equip for Equality has an excellent track record of implementing
changes in the system in Illinois and protecting the rights of people
with disabilities. I run a business that provides access solutions to
people with disabilities, and I have seen first-hand the impact that
Equip for Equality has on breaking down barriers in Illinois."
Equip for Equality celebrated 25 years of service and gave out awards. Oscar-winning actress, Marlee Matlin was unable to attend, so her brother accepted an award on her behalf for her advocacy work. Extreme
Home Makeover won an award for building accessible homes and schools and Eduardo Xol was there to accept the award. Mattel received the 2010 Corporate Excellence award and they donated American Girl Dolls with wheelchairs for the event. Seven-year-old Kaleb Drew and his family received an award for advocating for therapy-dog access at his school.
CEO, President and Founder Zena Naiditch received the Equip for Equality Leadership Award for her
outstanding and groundbreaking leadership. Senior Advocate Michelle
Hall Bolden received the Equip for Equality Service Award for her
25 years of service.
The event drew over 400 attendees. Dave Savini summed up the reasons why he stays involved with Equip for Equality year after year: "The more I learned about the challenges that people with disabilities
face, the more I started to realize how much work needs to be done.
That's why I contribute my time to Equip for Equality-they champion
equal access and the rights of people with disabilities."