Defending Our Rights


Defending Our Rights in Fiscal Year 2019

Access Living does community organizing, policy work and legal work around issues that are important to people with disabilities in Chicago, Illinois and nationwide. We speak up to make sure the rights of people with disabilities are respected and that our voices are heard. We fight against disability-related discrimination. In 2019:

  • Our staff and board members participated in transition subcommittee work for both Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot. For the Governor, we were part of the civil rights and healthcare subcommittees, and for the Mayor, we were part of the housing and transportation subcommittees.
  • Our advocacy staff visited with 35 state and city level elected officials to build relationships and educate our representatives on what Access Living does and what our community cares about.
  • We joined other advocates in leading policy work around assistance animals in housing after learning the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plans to modify its existing guidance. We remain concerned HUD will issue new guidance that makes it more difficult for disabled people to assert their right to have assistance animals in housing.


  • We released our twelfth annual review of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) budget for FY 2019 citing special education staffing shortages and recommending strategic reconsideration of how CPS will resolve issues affecting students with disabilities.
  • As one of the leaders of the Chicago Special Education Advocates Group, we began collaborating with the Illinois State Board of Education and its newly appointed monitor in order to reform CPS’s special education program.
  • We celebrated a newly enacted education law this spring that our staff wrote and that we vigorously advocated for. It initially provided parents of students with disabilities in CPS with a draft of Individual Education Plan (IEP) documents five days in advance of IEP meetings so that parents have a chance to review them and to contribute to the IEP in a meaningful way. We then advocated for a special education bill extending the scope statewide so all Illinois families of students with disabilities would receive the benefit of having sufficient information three days before the IEP meeting.


  • The Healthcare and Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) policy and organizing staff conducted a wildly successful town hall on sexuality that explored disability, sexual identity, sexual pleasure and agency in an affirming way.
  • They also worked to support the right to sex and reproductive health education for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities through a state bill, HB 3299.
  • Access Living hosted its second Queer X Disability Resource Fair.


  • We filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago for not having accessible homeless shelters and for turning people away because they have a disability.
  • We continued our federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago over its failure to
  • make its affordable housing program accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Along with Neighbors for Affordable Housing and the Chicago Housing Initiative, Access Living’s Disability Rights Action Coalition for Housing (DRACH) organizing group successfully pushed through a new accessible and affordable housing project
  • in Jefferson Park.
  • We continued to call for updates to Chicago’s building code with the goal of making it the most accessible in the nation.
  • We continued to give legal assistance to a family that wants to modify their historic home in Old Town for their daughter who uses a wheelchair. A group of neighbors claim modifying the family’s home will compromise the historical nature of the neighborhood. We intervened in the case to protect the family’s right to make the home accessible.


  • We continued our lawsuit against Uber.
  • We participated in former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Taskforce for New Mobility, which presented its findings in early 2019. Access Living recommended policies to ensure the disability community has meaningful access to shared mobility devices as they are developed and brought online.

Intersectional Justice

  • We have done more work on racial justice this year. We are working to change options for emergency response involving black and brown people with disabilities. To help address that, our Advancing Your Leadership Power (AYLP) organizing group hosted three town halls, including one where the Office of Emergency Management and Communications presented. Emergency response alternatives were explored and attendees learned about the current processes.
  • We advocated on the rights of immigrants with disabilities. We worked on bills to make sure immigrants with disabilities in Illinois can access services they need, including a bill to protect immigrant tenants’ rights. We also submitted public comments on the federal public charge rule change facing some immigrants with disabilities. Along with the National Immigrant Justice Center, we organized an Immigration and Disability Summit focused on Chicagoland advocates from both the immigration and disability sectors, establishing an action plan and a brand new Task Force to address issues facing immigrants with disabilities.