Thankful for a Wonderful 15 Years

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Colleen Starkloff Talks Disability

I love Thanksgiving!  As Thanksgiving approaches each year, I begin to think of things I am thankful for.  This year what comes to mind is my gratitude for the Starkloff Disability Institute.  2018 marks 15 years that we have been doing the great work we do, and I could not be prouder. I am thankful for all the wonderful donors, team members, friends, and allies who have made this 15-year journey possible.


I think back over the years since I first learned about anything to do with disability. I realize how much I have learned from people who have disabilities about what we are capable of and what we need to do to be successful.  Yes, you may have noticed I used the word “we”.   I was unaware of why I was so impulsive, distractible, had several projects going at one time and struggled to finish anything while I was growing up.  It was only well after I was married that I realized I have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).  Living with my late husband, Max Starkloff – an organized, disciplined man – reflected strategies I incorporated to lead a more organized, structured lifestyle.


More than ever, I am thankful for Max Starkloff. I met Max after I became the physical therapist in the nursing home – where he lived.  He came up to my office on my second day on the job. When I looked into his eyes and basked in his warm smile, I knew he was the guy for me!  Max taught me so much about myself in ways no one would ever expect.


I learned from Max what it meant to live with a disability. They definitely don’t teach that in school!  I learned that there were no curb cuts at intersections. Furthermore, I didn’t know what a curb cut was!  There were no lifts on buses.  Public buildings and spaces were not required to provide accessibility to visitors or customers. In short, it was nearly impossible for someone with a significant disability to live in the community and enjoy all the freedoms that life has to offer. Some would pity that reality, but my Max was a fighter – a pioneer!


Max was living in a nursing home simply because there was no reliable personal assistance to help him with his daily tasks.  There were no federal or state laws that provided rights for disabled people or protected us from discrimination.  Without all these amenities, most people with significant disabilities were relegated to nursing homes or their families’ homes for the rest of their lives.


So I stood alongside Max and our community to work for change, and we did!  We were integral parts of the national and international Disability Rights Movement.  We started a nonprofit organization to help people with disabilities break free and live independently, which we called Paraquad. At every chance, we fought for the changes we needed to live freely.  We got involved in national politics as if our lives depended on it…because it did!


Now in 2018, we have curb cuts, lifts on buses, access to buildings, public transportation, parks, sidewalks, street crossings, accessible housing (although still not enough), museums, churches, schools, hotels, swimming pools, you name it!  Because of our successes, we have laid the groundwork for people with disabilities to, finally live a productive, independent lifestyle in their own communities across the globe.


However, there is still so much to do. There are more job openings than there are qualified workers to fill these jobs.  Increasing disability employment not only fills the pockets of disabled workers, but it increases their quality of life, and puts spendable income back into our economy.  This is the time for people with disabilities to be getting the right training for the jobs that are waiting for them in corporate America.  Opportunity is knocking.  I’m more excited than ever, and I am thankful to continue leading the work of Starkloff Disability Institute.

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