David Newburger | St. Louis Public Radio

David Newburger

The city of St. Louis alone contains roughly 2,000 miles worth of sidewalks, which vary widely in design and overall condition.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In an age of crumbling infrastructure across the U.S., sidewalks have been no exception to the pattern of decay. The city of St. Louis alone is home to roughly 2,000 miles worth of sidewalks, and both the physical condition and suitability of those streetside pathways vary widely.

David Newburger, St. Louis’ commissioner on the disabled, thinks about sidewalks quite a bit. He notes that he’s old enough to remember when curb cuts — sloped curb faces that are particularly critical for someone using a wheelchair — were few and far between. These days, Newburger says, a lot of effort goes into the design of new sidewalks to ensure that they are safe and passable for everyone, including pedestrians with disabilities.

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.

Emma Minx, Logan Chiropractic Paraquad Clinic senior intern, turns on the power plate exercise machine for Paraquad participant Leon Zickrick. The machine vibrates to help break up joint adhesion in his shoulder. (July 25, 2014_
File Photo | 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.

Starkloff Institute: Fighting a world that says 'You shouldn't be here'

Oct 10, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 10, 2012 - “You shouldn’t be here,” she said.

The woman probably meant well. She saw a 70-something man in a wheelchair with a respirator attached, waiting for the elevator in a downtown office building. But she obviously didn’t know who she was talking to when she asked him, “What are you doing here?”

To which he answered, “Going to work.”

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 1, 2012 - According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 56 million Americans live with a disability, making up one of the largest minority groups in the United States. However, some argue that this group’s political voice is still a whisper, as the voter turnout for disabled Americans remains consistently lower than those without disabilities.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon Sept. 16, 2009 - Six years after a motorcycle accident rendered Steve Foelsch a quadriplegic, the former MoDOT highway worker made a decision to become independent. He left his parents' care to pursue an education at the University of Missouri-Columbia.