Eleven years ago, Barry Elbasani was in a shallow diving accident that paralyzed him from the neck down.
“I was full of life, but I didn’t really have a professional direction,” he said. “After the accident my life instantly changed both for good and bad. But I believe I’m leading a life of purpose now, influencing and helping others with disabilities.”
Elbasani, who now works as an independent living supervisor with Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation, told his story to a crowd of about 160 people Tuesday during the annual celebration to mark the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, hosted by the not-for-profit Warrensburg-based West-Central Independent Living Solutions organization at Convention Hall.
On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA bill into law, prohibiting discrimination based on disabilities. Elbasani told the crowd Tuesday some believed the bill was the “Emancipation Proclamation for those who are disabled, giving us an equal opportunity toward self-sufficiency.”
“After my accident I went to a facility to help with my physical, occupational and recreation therapy and after three months I thought, ‘OK, I’m ready to go back home and live my life now,’ ” he said. “It wasn’t until I got back to Kansas City that reality hit me and I realized this is not a wheelchair-accessible world. We’ve made unbelievable strides in the last 23 years, but there’s still a long way to go.”
WILS Director of Program Services David Storlie said hearing stories like Elbasani’s was important to fostering peer support.
“When you’re disabled, it’s very easy to live a life of isolation so having a speaker like Barry, getting together at an event like this, it’s all about showing there are other people out there too,” Storlie said. “It’s also easier for people to relate if they’re talking to someone who’s had a similar spinal cord injury or something who’s had to make the transition to living independently.”
According to WILS Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator Kay Kocher, the organization has three major, and many smaller, events each year to encourage peer support networking.
“We like to host events like this to get people out and about, interacting but also to advertise and let people know the services WILS offers, most of which are free,” she said. “This event is an especially important one to us because it’s celebrating the passage of ADA, which is something that really touches the lives of all our clients.”
Elbasani credited a support network of family and friends, in addition to organizations like WILS with helping him transition to living and working independently.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky and fortunate for all the support I’ve had in the past,” he said. “It was horrible going through my accident but I’m continually moving closer to full independence.”