Celebrating ADA's 32nd Anniversary the Accessible Way!

Emily Blum
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July 26, 2022

Congrats on two years into your position as Commissioner of MOPD! When you started your position there was much deserved celebration that you were the highest-ranking deaf city official in the nation. Can you reflect on how holding that honor of “first and only” has impacted your leadership?

It is both a responsibility and a privilege. While I am the first deaf person and highest-ranking deaf city official serving as a member of a mayor’s cabinet nationwide, I have no intention of being the last. I am committed to helping to create pathways to encourage more people with disabilities to seek out city government employment opportunities.  

What are you most proud of two years into your job?

I’ve worked with Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, my fellow Commissioners and Department heads across the city to increase accessibility as a priority.  Through this effort, we designated an Access Officer in every single city department and sister agency, who serves as a point person on disability internally within their department and also as a point of contact for members of the public seeking access to city services.  This has been an incredible commitment and has led to increased engagement and commitment around accessibility.

Image Description: Rachel Arfa, wears a purple dress and a black blazer next to a gentleman with a face mask on. Rachel is smiling in the direction of Mayor Lori Lightfoot who is speaking to Rachel through her facemask.

This month we celebrate the anniversary of the ADA, the most sweeping civic rights law that protects people with disabilities. What’s still needed to ensure disabled people have the rights they need?

While it may be uncomfortable for many to admit, bias against people with disabilities still exists. This can include assumptions about what people with disabilities are capable of achieving, which are frequently proven to be inaccurate.   That bias unfortunately results in barriers for people with disabilities.   Increased visibility and education is needed to raise awareness and exposure about disability, including the fact that so many of us have a disability, and that disability is visible and invisible.  

In the City of Chicago where do you think disabled leadership is needed most and where and in what spaces do you think more Disability Lead Members should be leading?

Voting is one of the most powerful and important ways to be civically engaged.  Given that so much is at stake on the ballot, it is important for the disability community to participate in our elections.  I’m pleased to work with so many members of Disability Lead, who serve in advisory roles on Citycommittees and participate in community engagement opportunities and offer insightful feedback.

Image Description: Rachel Arfa and Mayor Lori Lightfoot attends the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) 2022 Global Accessibility Awareness Day activities at the MOPD field office at 2102 West Ogden Avenue in Chicago's Near West Side; May 2022. Posing with an attendee for a photo op.

Finally, what can disabled Chicagoans look forward to over the next year(s)? In other words, what’s on your agenda for MOPD?

I believe the arts are a powerful way to share what it is like to have a disability and to raise awareness.  With that, we have two initiatives involving the arts.  We are working with artist Sam Kirk on adding a mural to the exterior wall of our space at 2102 W. Ogden, at the Central West Community Center (often called the Field Office, we have brought back the original name of the building when it was dedicated by Mayor Washington in 1987).  We have had some community engagement sessions including participation by members of Disability Lead, providing feedback on ways that different disabilities can be represented visually.   This mural will add a visual narrative to what it means to live in Chicago and have a disability.  The mural will go up in October.  

We also created an Artist in Residency program with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), which will be based at the Central West Community Center.  Applications close in July and the awardee will be announced in October.  

Finally, on the 32nd Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 2022, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot announced a landmarkinvestment in disability employment – the launch of the MOPD CareerCenter.  We honor the ADA anniversary, aspart of our commitment to work to increase disability employment.  

MOPD’s Career Center staff includes a Program Director, four Career Placement Counselors and an American Sign Language Interpreter. Services offered include working one-on-one with job seekers with disabilities on career readiness including identifying job training programs and job placement with employers. The Career Center will also serve employers who want to be more inclusive in their hiring and recruitment practices and are looking to hire job seekers with disabilities. By embracing disability inclusion, companies can access a diverse talent pipeline. 

Services are available by telephone, remote meetings using video platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, in-person meetings by appointment and limited walk-ins. To sign up for Career Center services, e-mail MOPDCareerCenter@cityofchicago.org, make an appointment by calling (312) 746-5773 and select prompt #3, make an in-person visit at 2102 W. Ogden, or visit the MOPD website at https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/mopd.html.

Mayor Lightfoot’s Video announcement of the MOPD Career Center launch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBshKyxJFUc

The City of Chicago Mayor’s Office press release on the launch of the MOPD Career Center: https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/mayor/press_room/press_releases/2022/july/PeopleWithDisabilitiesEmploymentCenter.html

Learn more about Rachel Arfa

MOPD is hiring:

MOPD Disability Resource Unit Program Director - select Current Openings, Job ID Number 369025

Digital Accessibility and Community Engagement - Information Coordinator - select Current Openings, Job ID 369024

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Interview