Thursday, November 8 -- “When I started my career, there were no curb cuts, no talking computers, no accessibility anywhere for people with disabilities.” The speaker is former Assessment Supervisor Kathy Marshall who recently came back to JVS so that the agency could celebrate her retirement after 25 years and wish her a happy birthday in the process.
Her birthday cake cleared, Marshall sat in her new hot green wheelchair, a device that draws the admiration of 20-30 year old drivers of hot rods and motorcycles. A scooter she used to use was all the rage with 70 year-old men and 7 year-old boys alike, so Marshall figures her technology is entering a new age of coolness.
The topic turned to Marshall’s career and the progress of rights for people with disabilities.
“There was no access to buses or movie theaters,” Marshall continued. “I remember when employers and business owners were all upset when they had to put in curb cuts and ramps: ‘People with disabilities…they don’t have any money. They’re never going to go shopping! Why do I have to make my place accessible?’”
Marshall, who began her career at the State Department of Rehabilitation in her native New Hampshire, has spent a significant part of her life making sure that attention is paid to the rights of people with disabilities whether business owners liked it or not.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was followed by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. When she visited or noticed places that were out of compliance, Marshall wrote letters. She has gone camping at all of the National Parks west of the Mississippi River, frequently leaving notes in guest books saying “you need to bring this up to code.”
"JVS has the contract with LA County for the Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) program. I used to go to the board meetings and the restrooms were not accessible,” said Marshall. “I made a complaint and I got a letter back, ‘Yes we’ll be working on it.’ The next time we went, they were all accessible.”
Just as importantly has been the service Marshall has provided for her clients. In her quarter century as an assessment supervisor for JVS’ Assessment and Disability Services, Marshall estimates that she has worked with more than 1,000 clients. Clients come to her with hopeful but realistic goals and Marshall did her best to help those goals be realized. She earned a Disability Services Award from the City of West Hollywood in 1999 and was featured on the city's street banners celebrating Disability Awareness Month in October.
“JVS is a great place for job seekers with disabilities to get started,” she said. “We have served a lot of people with very severe disabilities who, in the past, would have been sitting at home. We’re really supportive of them. We say, ‘show us your abilities and your strengths and your skills. We’re not promising anything is going to happen or we’ll get you a job right away, but this is really good place to demonstrate those skills.”
“And they leave with a plan.”
Marshall leaves JVS with a plan...to "enjoy getting rested and not feeling tired." If you work a third of your life you should have a third of your life to do something else."
And she leaves with the agency's admiration and gratitude.