WLCDR – Promoting the Rights of People with Disabilities

Circa 2003

There are few better ways to promote the rights of T people with disabilities than to honor those leading the cause. On November 12, 2003, the West ern Law Center for Disability Rights (WLCDR) held its annual gala and fundraiser to award people, governments and corporations for their continued support of providing legal services to people with disabilities. The event was held at the famed Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the devoted rain-soaked guests weathered Los Angeles’ stormy conditions to attend. Festivities ran late, but thanks to the efforts of the organizers and participants the affair went off without a hitch.

Left to Right Eve Hill, with Stacy Miner of Southern California Edison and Robert C. Daly,
Left to Right Eve Hill, executive director of Western Law Center for disability Rights with Stacy Miner of Southern California Edison and Robert C. Daly, vice president of Toyota motor sales USA, Inc.

Eve Hill, director of the WLCDR, hosted the event that honored Toyota Motor Sales, USA, with the Corporate Award for their commitment to incorporate accessible capabilities into their automotive designs. In 2001, in an effort to broaden its outreach to customers with mobility-related disabilities, Toyota initiated its Mobility Assistance Program. The program is a comprehensive solution to reduce challenges of buying and operating a wheelchair accessible vehicle.

Toyota’s 2004 Independent Mobility Systems Sienna Rampvan bridges the gap between the largely untapped pool of potential customers who have disabilities and quality, accessible transportation. The Ramp van features a lowered in floor right-side entry ramp, making the vehicle easier to enter and exit for people who use wheel chairs. In addition, Toyota provides a cash reimbursement of up to $1000 to customers for the cost they paid to purchase and install adaptive driver and passenger equipment. These are a few of the innovative examples of how Toyota is bringing their product to people with disabilities.

Left to right Alice Elliot, Larry Selman, and Ann Calfa with the DREAM (Disability Rights in Entertainment, Arts & Media) Award
Left to right Alice Elliot, Larry Selman, and Ann Calfa with the DREAM (Disability Rights in Entertainment, Arts & Media) Award

Governments as well as corporations were honored for their remarkable work raising awareness of the issues which most impact people with disabilities. The government of Mexico was awarded the Charles Siegal President’s Award for its leadership role in the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. In December 2002, the Mexican government presented a United Nations resolution calling for consideration of an international convention to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. The UN General Assembly adopted the resolution and decided to establish an Ad Hoc Committee to consider proposals for an international convention. Mexico has led the effort working with other governments and non-governmental organizations. The Government of Mexico estimates there are 600 million people with dis abilities in the world, 80 percent of whom live in developing countries.

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The Volunteer of the Year Award was granted to the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis for its pro bono representation of Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Hospital. Rancho Los Amigos is one of the top rehabilitation hospitals in the country providing rehabilitation services to people with spinal cord injuries, strokes, traumatic brain injuries and limb amputation. These services often mean the difference between life and death for patients and are not available anywhere else in the Los Angeles area for individuals with Medi-Cal insurance (California’s version of Medicaid). When Kirkland & Ellis heard Los Angeles county was trying to shut down the hospital, they sought an injunction to prevent the closure and argued such action would violate the county’s obligation under the Medicaid Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. Judge Florence Marie Cooper agreed and issued an injunction keeping the doors of Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Hospital open.

Maria Del Refugio Gonzalez Dominguez, (left) with Vilm Martinez with & Robert Daly and Charles Siegal for the Corporate Award presentation.
Maria Del Refugio Gonzalez Dominguez, head of the Mexican Unit of Legal Coordination and Documentary Information (left) with Vilm Martinez with the Charles Siega President’s Award. Robert Daly and Charles Siegal for the Corporate Award presentation.

Alice Elliott and Larry Selman were the recipients of the DREAM (Disability Rights in Entertainment, Arts and Media) Award for their academy award-nominated documentary The Collector of Bedford Street, which is based on Selman’s life as a community activist and fundraiser with developmental disabilities. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Selman fundraises for various philanthropic organizations. Born in 1942, Selman’s fundraising started at the young age of 13 when he collected money for United Cerebral Palsy without his parents’ knowledge or help. After his parents died within four months of each other, Selman suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized for two months. After moving back to New York, Selman began selling raffle tickets as a fundraiser to improve the trees on his street. His neighbor, filmmaker Alice Elliot, took interest in his story and made a documentary that has won several accolades, including Best Documentary at the Aspen Short Film and Florida Film Festivals. Even as he accepted the DREAM award he was reminding people to purchase pins in support of charity.

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The Western Law Center for Disabilities Rights, located on the Loyola Law School campus, promotes the rights of people with disabilities. It was founded in 1975 through the dream of disability advocate A. Milton Miller. Miller, who died shortly before its inception, laid the foundation for the center’s mission to provide legal representation to people with disabilities. Because dis ability rights were in their elementary stages in the 1970s, Miller’s vision was a groundbreaking endeavor. Today, the Western Law Center is one of the oldest dis ability rights organizations in the country and the leading disability rights law firm in Southern California.

by Jennifer Melendres

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