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Disabilities symposium to look at future

Craig Chamberlain, Education Editor
(217) 333-2894;



CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. President Clinton signed another landmark disability act, known as "Ticket to Work." What might come next, whoever is president, will be just one of the topics at the "Symposium on Disability and Equality: Strategies for Success" this Thursday through Saturday (Nov. 16-18) at the Illini Center, 200 S. Wacker Drive, Chicago.

Organized by the new Disability Research Institute (DRI) at the University of Illinois and co-sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute, the event will bring together a highly regarded group of leaders and experts in the field of disability and in the disability-rights movement.

The program Thursday evening, starting at 7 p.m., will feature Judy Heumann, assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services. The keynote speaker will be Monroe Berkowitz, professor emeritus at Rutgers University, considered a leading expert on the economics of disability and a key promoter of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999.

Friday's program will be a series of panel discussions on strategies for success in education, government, disability culture, in the United States and internationally. Saturday morning will be a town meeting-style discussion involving all the participants in large and small groups.

"We'll be trying to get the people at the symposium to give us their honest opinions about where we really are going in disability and equality issues," says DRI director Chrisann Schiro-Geist. "And we purposely timed it for after the election so that the government people would say what's really on their minds."

The overall goal will be a "reality-based" review of progress toward equality - as well as toward equity in quality of life indicators - for people with disabilities, Schiro-Geist said.

Participants will be looking not only at the potential legislative agenda, but at what changes have occurred and are projected to occur in society and the culture, and what should be on the research agenda in coming years.

The presenters and most of the participants will be "people who can speak with authority on these issues," Schiro-Geist said.

"They're stakeholders in the disability movement, either as professionals, researchers, educators, or people with disabilities who have high visibility in the movement itself." All of the sessions will be recorded and transcribed, and a monograph will be prepared for publication and distribution.