Late in the 1980's, Illinois had established an Illinois Advisory Council because a state law had been passed. This council was made up of 20 individuals with disabilities and was facilitated by the Office of Rehabilitative Services (ORS). One of LINC's first board members, Judy Schutzenhoffer, was picked to represent people with severe disabilities. Rita Howells was also interested in the Independent Living Movement in our area at that time, and their discussions with others led to the first Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois (CCDI) Chapter in our area. From there town hall meetings took place involving bankers, legislators, parents and people with disabilities to discuss the needs of our area. Their discussions with others like Len Cleary and Tom Kennedy also led to the first meeting of the stakeholders in 1987.
This first group of advocates met with Senator Ken Hall and Jim DeYoung in Springfield which brought on a landmark meeting between all the state representatives and senators that covered St. Clair, Monroe and Randolph counties. This was the first time that had ever been done! Representative Yvetter Young also participated in the push for funding and she strongly encouraged the establishment of our center's presence in East St. Louis.
So, with the legislators on board they began to seek funding. There was trouble getting the first grant in on time so they took a trip to Senator Hall’s office in Springfield where his office staff assisted in completing the document. Finally, on November 1st, 1989, LINC, Inc. opened its doors on Washington St. in Belleville and on the November 15, 1989 received its first check from ORS for $125,000. LINC also set up an office in East St. Louis at that time.
It’s easy for us to get caught up in just doing the day to day stuff but extremely important to remember that we can make a difference nationally. Those first stakeholders fought hard for funding for our center and as a result of the relationships they built with our legislators, they played a part in the national push for the signing of the ADA. As a matter of fact, our first board president was invited to attend the signing in Washington DC on June 26th, 1990 by President Bush.
Biggest challenges of that time:
Public awareness was a struggle:
¨ The mayor of Belleville questioned why they would need accessible bathrooms at the courthouse since people with disabilities didn’t go there.
¨ The post office had one accessible parking spot but no curb cuts or ramps to enter the building.
¨ That LINC and CCDI played such a big role in the signing of the ADA
¨ They worked with Justin Dart to develop a letter consumers could use in support of the ADA
¨ Established a place where individuals with disabilities could go and be accepted and socialize.
¨ They taught people with disabilities that their opinions and dreams mattered.
And, so today, LINC continues to uphold the values held by those first stakeholders back in 1989; values that ensure accessibility, inclusion, and freedom of choice for all members of our community.