||Building a World of Inclusion for People with Health Conditions and Disabilities|
In 1990, America prepared for a new era of inclusion for people with disabilities with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As with legal victories in other civil rights movements, almost overnight, millions of people with disabilities achieved the promise of full access in employment, education, telecommunication and transportation. But as with all social advancements, the challenge was to translate these new legal rights into public awareness, attitudinal change and effective implementation.
From this challenge came ABILITY Magazine. The brain-child of Chet Cooper, business leader and former publisher of National Lampoon, ABILITY Magazine uses celebrity interviews and human interest stories to build awareness that disability is part of the fabric of life. Wanting to actively demonstrate solutions for issues people with disabilities confront on a daily basis, in 1995 Cooper established ABILITY Awareness, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, to promote opportunities for people with disabilities in housing, employment, volunteerism, education and media.
It was during an interview with Habitat for Humanity founder and CEO Millard Fuller that Cooper brought up the importance and ease of incorporating basic accessibility features into new home construction, a position Habitat for Humanity International later officially promoted on their website. Fuller was willing to consider a program that would incorporate people with disabilities as the core base of volunteers for a Habitat build and directed ABILITY Awareness to the Greater Birmingham affiliate of Habitat for Humanity. With this new partnership, the first ABILITY House was built in 1999 for homeowner Chris Wright, who has paraplegia. Hundreds of volunteers with disabilities gathered in Alabama to help raise the roof; paradigms were shattered and a community was forever changed. The ABILITY House concept was so successful that the Lion's Club, after attending the Birmingham build, put $9 million toward similar builds across the nation.
As multiple homes were being built in the South and up and down the East Coast, ABILITY Awareness was staffed entirely by a dedicated team of volunteers and Cooper provided those who worked for ABILITY Magazine relief from magazine duties to enable them to volunteer. In 2005, a financial and technology contribution from HP made possible a vital, innovative new program and the hiring of ABILITY Awareness' first full-time employee. At the same time, ABILITY Awareness was awarded a grant from the Corporation for National & Community Service to fully launch the college student initiative as well as the ABILITY House Veterans with Disabilities Initiative, which provides meaningful volunteer opportunities to veterans who have health conditions or disabilities.
Today, through corporate and governmental support, ABILITY Awareness is run by a professional staff dedicated to the organization's mission of enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities through housing, employment, education, media and volunteer opportunities.