Easterseals at 100: A Disability Community Milestone

with Angela Williams of Easterseals

For 100 years, Easterseals has championed Americans with disabilities. Angela Williams, President and CEO of Easterseals, discusses the organization’s impact and legacy, and its enduring commitment to advocating on behalf of children and adults with disabilities.

Posted on:

Jun 28, 2019

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61 million Americans have a disability. That amounts to one in four adults. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. For the past 100 years, Easterseals has been helping people with disabilities and their families live better lives. Joining me is the organization's President and CEO, Angela Williams. Angela, thank you so much for being here. So, Easterseals deals with a broad range of people living with a broad range of disabilities. Mobility is number one.

Williams: Yes.

Anderson: Why is that, and what are some of the other major areas that you guys focus on?

Williams: Well, first, thanks for having me on your program. Mobility is a key issue because it's one of the major barriers for people living with disabilities to access items in the community, whether it's going to receive medical services, whether it's going to get a job, or just living, and living, learning, working, and playing, which is what we talk about, about our programs and how we serve people with disabilities.

Anderson: So, 100 years?

Williams: Yes.

Anderson: Congratulations on the anniversary.

Williams: Thank you.

Anderson: You guys have been having a huge impact on the lives of people, obviously. You just told us about some of those things.

Williams: Yes.
Anderson: What do you think is the number-one thing that you want to focus on in this 100th year?

Williams: In this 100th year, we want to make sure everyone knows about the great work that Easterseals is doing in communities. We are impacting individuals, families, and entire communities. People living with disabilities, we want to see them 100% included and 100% empowered. So, we want to change the narrative about how people work with, live with, and support people living with disabilities. Anderson: So, I think you have like 70 affiliates across the country. You work on the local level, the state level, the federal level. But on the human level, when it comes to these people that you are talking about, can you share a couple of stories of the people whose lives you've really changed?

Williams: Well, Tetiana, there are incredible stories of how our staff on the ground have worked with people either in their homes or in our facilities. For example, one story is of a young kid. His grandmother noticed that he was -- his behavior was disruptive. He wasn't talking much and interacting with his sisters or his mother. She said, "You know, go take your child to Easterseals and have him evaluated." The evaluation showed that the child had autism spectrum disorder. Since then, with our early childhood intervention with him, he is now in junior high school No more disruptive behavior. He's thriving, and he's doing well in school. That's just one example, and we have so many more. So, early intervention is really a game-changer then, I guess, when it comes to children. But what about the adults? What about some of the adults that you are servicing and how their lives have been changed? Williams: We run a program called the Senior Community Service Employment Program. And what this program does is, its funding, it's a public-private partnership with the federal government. And we find older workers. We work with them for about a year, teach them new skills or other skills that they used in the past, to reintegrate back into society because they want to work. We help them with their résumés, interviewing, and help them find a job. And so that's a wonderful program and an example of how we support older Americans.

Anderson: Let's take a little look back at the organization. It's been around for 100 years. How did it get started, and why?

Williams: Because of one man's tragedy. He lost his son in a streetcar accident in the early 1900s -- Edgar Allen. And what he realized is that there were no hospitals geared to caring for children and their needs. And then he discovered that there were so many children with disabilities, that about 12 years later, he started the National Society for Crippled Children, which later became Easterseals.

Anderson: So, you said earlier that the goal of the organization in this next 100 years is 100% inclusion. What do you think is the best way to get there?

Williams: The best way to get there is, one, just making people aware that there are people living with disability, and some of those disabilities we can see, and some we don't see. But the one thing that we can do is just by education, and another thing that we're doing is our Southern California affiliate offers what's called a Disability Film Challenge. It's a huge deal. And what we do is, every year, we invite people to do a short film that either features a person with a disability acting or behind the scenes and behind the camera. And so we just had a huge award ceremony at the Universal Studios, just a few weeks ago.

Anderson: So, quickly, what was the winning film about? Williams: It was about a woman. And it's called "The Family." So, there was one where she -- I don't know how to best describe the story line. It was just really interesting, about how she was integrating with her family. And then there were some other films that were also winners. So I would encourage people to go look on the website to see those short films and to participate next year. But, again, that's a way, just using media, to be able to change people's perceptions about people living with disabilities.

Anderson: Well, you know, it's all about education, it's all about access, all about getting your story out there. That's why I really want to thank you for joining us.

Williams: Oh, it was my pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Anderson: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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