Profile: Christos Palames, Disability Rights Advocate

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Profile: Christos Palames, Disability Rights Advocate

Catalog Entry

Christos Palames is an easygoing guy with an open and optimistic view on disability rights. He wishes that change would come quicker but he knows that advocates do not always get what they hope for—or even what the law requires. He seems a roll-with-the-punches kind of man. In his account of life as an accessibility advocate, he highlights the need to come to terms with the way bureaucracy works in the real world. Sometimes goals can only be reached by investing time and constant pressure. Getting political and institutional commitment to undertake accessibility improvements often takes years, and without a measure of patience one could quickly lose spirit waiting for big ticket capital investments. The ebb and flow of progress and set-backs follows political transitions, it is something that Palames has watched and navigated for years.

There was excitement in his voice when he talked about Maura Healey. The 2nd term Massachusetts Attorney General has been a strong supporter of disability rights. Palames trusts her values and her abilities. He believes she has the political traction and the staying power to make great strides in fulfilling the promise of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Staying power is important, Palames says, because government is ever-changing. Resources expand and contract in each budget cycle for institutions like FSU, and they are often targeted at different priorities than those identified through even the most careful planning process. Capital funds come from taxes after all, and there can be fits and starts over investing public revenues in access improvements that the average tax-payer may not personally need or understand. 

Palames is a consultant to Massachusetts state government carrying out assessments of campuses of the state higher education system for ADA compliance. And as he works to bridge the gap between funding and disability rights law his laidback demeanor shines through.  At Fitchburg State he first documented barriers and potential solutions in 2008 and then again seven years later in 2015. The report from 2008 showed that very extensive improvements were needed to improve the accessibility of the campus core facilities. The 2015 report—available through the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management—showed substantial progress, at the same time describing improvements that are still needed.  Palames highlights how far the FSU campus has come and the challenges of the site with its steep slopes.

Every building poses a unique set of design challenges. Priorities are framed according to how the space is used, and what programs are operated within each. Disability rights law is complex even if the guiding principles – equity and inclusion – are clear.  Public universities, like Fitchburg State, are covered by Title II of the ADA, while private universities are covered by Title III, and there are also detailed state standards, administered by the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board, for the design of accessible design elements.

The bottom line is that public institutions like FSU have obligations that run deeper in some areas than those of private colleges and universities. Moreover, these obligations have been around in one form or another since before the ADA was passed in 1990. Dormitories and dining halls are another piece of the puzzle.  As important as they are to college life, they are funded through a budget stream separate from academic buildings and athletic facilities. It takes patience and persistence and Palames says that student’s voices are absolutely essential in promoting the rainbow of human rights including accessibility for all. There are times when the University may need to be challenged, but just as often it needs the backing of students, alumni and community.

The vision of full inclusion and accessibility for all rings through the words Palames spoke; it was the most important message of the interview. Even though progress may seem slow, and funding even slower, his hopefulness is uplifting. It brings an infectious feeling of open possibilities that fires the desire of those who speak with him.  Promoting positive changes in the world is possible. If everyone could be so uplifting and positive while promoting their goals, human possibility might seem endless. 

Christos Palames is the Executive Director of Independent Living Resources. He lives and works in Florence Massachusetts with his wife Judy Kimberly. 

The son and grandson of Greek immigrants, Christo was born and raised in Boston. He was paralyzed in a college wrestling match in 1967 and spent a year in hospitals in Hartford and Boston.  In 1974, he founded Stavros Center for Independent Living, the first CIL in the country to serve a largely rural, multi-county region. He was also active in the creation of the Vermont Center for Independent Living.

Christo served in Massachusetts’ state government for four years during the administration Michael Dukakis. His focus was on reform of state access regulatory systems and the development of large system accessibility and disability rights compliance planning for state agencies. 

He is a photographer and a folk historian of the disability movement, a collector and editor of stories and essays chronicling disability rights history through the lived experience of people with disabilities.  

Christos serves on Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s Advisory Committee on Disability Rights.

Bibliography

Further Reading

Concerning the Attorney General of Massachusetts:
https://www.mass.gov/person/maura-healey- attorney-general

Concerning Title II and III regulations for ADA Compliance: https://www.ada.gov/ 2010_regs.htm

Concerning general ADA information: https://www.ada.gov/

Catalog Entry Author(s)

Bob Williams, Student, Fitchburg State University (with additions by Palames)

Collection

Citation

“Profile: Christos Palames, Disability Rights Advocate,” Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed September 27, 2022, https://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/items/show/156.

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