Charlotte Des Jardins has recently retired from The Family Resource Center on Disabilities (FRCD), which is a not for profit organization that she co-founded and served as executive director for over forty years. Ms Des Jardins’ responsibilities included administrating all the work of the organization, organizing all the tasks, hiring the staff, making certain that everybody understood their responsibilities, which entails training the staff. She wrote most of the proposals, which funded the organization (FRCD), collaborated with many other organizations to provide assistance for the other organization’s clients, such as providing information on special education laws, information on how to work with their children, and do outreach to their families. The Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind was one such organization that partnered with FRCD on that particular federal grant funded project. FRCD has been working with various organizations in different ways in order to provide education and support for disabled students and their families for more than forty years.
Over four decades ago, while reading the Hyde-Park Herald, Mrs. Des Jardins discovered a story about a blind man named Rami Rabby who lived in Hyde-Park and wanted to use equipment from the Chicago Park District. The Park District refused to let Mr. Rabby use its equipment because he was blind, and it was feared that he might hurt himself. Therefore, the former director of FRCD contacted Mr. Rabby and invited him to participate in her organization. Rabby became involved in education issues and attended the Chicago Board of Education meetings several times in order to testify about the needs of blind students. Both Ms Des Jardins and Mr. Rabby, among many others, were immersed on the state-level activities. Rabby Attended Oxford University in England, where he was a distinguished scholar who graduated at the top of his class in the field of international studies. When he endeavored to acquired a diplomatic position with the State Department, he was denied. He sued the State Department for discriminating against him. He won his law suit and became a U.S. diplomat abroad.
The state of Illinois took part in a 1977 White House conference on handicapped individuals. Each state was allocated a grant to plan activities and select people to participate in a national conference to work on a national agenda to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Rabby was one of eight people who were chosen to represent the State of Illinois at the National White House conference, where he and his colleagues identified Issues for legislative action. Mrs. Des Jardin is convinced that some of the agenda, which became part of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), was first conceived at the national conference.
The result of the 1977 national conference significantly impacted future legislations. According to the former disability activist, the ADA did for the private sector, what the 1977 national legislation did for the public sector. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, section504 , prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities in federally funded programs. It was not until 1977 that discrimination was finally defined, and then the law could be implemented to prevent violation. She emphasized the importance of disabled people being able to link any type of discrimination to their disability in order for the ADA to be effective. Ms Des Jardins believes that it is the responsibility of a disabled individual to explain to a recalcitrant employer how he or she would adequately perform the essential function of the work, and once the employment is obtained, to demonstrate that he/she is highly productive for the purpose of retaining the job and opening the door for other qualified disabled people. Finally, Des Jardins shared about the opportunity she had to advocate on the behalf of a wheelchair-user, and young woman who applied for a position as an aide at the Chicago Park District. When her application was rejected, Ms Des Jardins went to talk to a hiring official to see how she could help. The official explained that the young lady’s application was rejected because she was in a wheelchair. Des Jardins asked the official who, in his opinion, was the best U.S. President? He replied “Franklin D. Roosevelt.” After the official was reminded that his favorite president was also in a wheelchair, he was persuaded to give the disabled young lady a job.