David Newburger

GIANTsqurl via Flickr

People with disabilities can and are making significant contributions to the St. Louis workforce, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

“Forty percent of the working-age population are unemployed or don’t have jobs,” said David Newburger, co-director of the Starkloff Disability Institute. “Eighty percent of the disabled population, working-age, do not have jobs.”

The Starkloff Disability Institute, a local nonprofit, is working to change societal attitudes about those with disabilities through its Next Big Step employment initiative.

Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio

Saturday is the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law requires public accommodations be made for people with disabilities and prohibits employment discrimination.

St. Louis has been on the forefront of disability advocacy since the 1970s, led by Paraquad founders Max and Colleen Starkloff. Through the efforts of Paraquad and the Starkloffs, St. Louis became the first city in the country to have lift-equipped buses. Members of Paraquad also traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby for the passage of the ADA.

For Colleen Starkloff and her husband Max, advocating for people with disabilities has always been about helping them gain independence. When they founded Paraquad in St. Louis 45 years ago, their goal was to enable people with disabilities to live independently.