In 1959, at age 21, Max Starkloff broke his neck in a car accident, becoming a quadriplegic.
“I think most people see disability as the worst thing that could ever happen to you and that it’s the end of your life,” said Colleen Starkloff, his widow and co-director of the Starkloff Disability Institute. “When I met Max, I realized it was the beginning of life.”
Max Starkloff, who died in 2010, became an advocate for people with disabilities.
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.
Logan Chiropractic Paraquad Clinic Senior Intern Emma Minx turns on the power plate exercise machine for Paraquad participant Leon Zickrick. The machine vibrates to help break up joint adhesion in his shoulder.
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.
Disability rights advocates in St. Louis are highlighting new federal rules that aim to open more job opportunities to people with disabilities. Starting Monday, federal contractors are required to work toward a goal of 7 percent disabled employees in their workforce.
The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is about twice that of other adults.
David Newburger, co-founder of the Starkloff Disability Institute, says many employers are still hesitant to hire people with disabilities because of some common misconceptions.
In a speech sponsored by the Starkloff Disability Institute, the assistant secretary of labor and head of the Office of Disability Employment Policy spells out why hiring people with disabilities makes good sense. The remarks have been edited for length and clarity.
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.