Tributes have been pouring in ever since the death of trailblazing activist Marca Bristo, but her impact on the community is even bigger than many across the city, and nation, realize.
Bristo, who passed away Sunday after a battle with cancer, is being remembered for her relentless fight for equality on behalf of Americans with disabilities, and specifically for her leadership at Chicago’s Access Living, which she founded in the 1980’s.
Her impact can be felt in all sorts of areas, including access to public transportation, housing, and even navigating city streets.
At 23 years old, a diving accident left her paralyzed, and shortly afterward she began her lifetime of passionate work fighting against discrimination.
It was Bristo who led numerous successful fights on behalf of Americans with disabilities, including her efforts to help pen the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.
“She had an amazing way of knowing how to address issues,” Access Living’s Acting CEO Daisy Feidt said. “She did it in mostly diplomatic ways, but she also knew how to be strong and forceful.”
In addition to her high-profile work in Washington, Bristo also helped in smaller, but equally powerful, ways. Whether it’s the ramp cut-outs in curbs you see on Chicago’s streets, or ensuring that CTA trains were accessible via elevator, Bristo fought in courts, and in the streets, to ensure everyone had access to these critical services.
“In the 1980’s in Chicago there was a great battle between disability rights activists and the CTA. Marca was one of the leaders that was fighting for what everyone would ultimately realize was the right thing,” ADA Task-Force Co-Chair Kevin Irvine said.
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Former President Barack Obama echoed those sentiments over the weekend, saying Bristo was an example of how progress can be slow, but always remains possible.
Although Bristo’s health took a turn for the worse as her battle with cancer progressed, she remained active in championing her cause until just a few weeks before her death.
“You definitely should thank Marca Bristo,” Irvine said. “Chicago was so fortunate to have had Marca, fighting for equal access for almost 40 years.”