Advocates with disabilities hope for more on anniversary of ADA

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Nick VanderWall knows what the colors green and blue look like but hasn’t seen them in many years. He lost his sight in a hunting accident in northern Michigan when he was 12 years old.

“I probably still have 140 to 150 pellets still in me,” he said.

He wasn’t aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act at the time but has since realized how many opportunities it has given him.

“I was able to go to school and not have to be in special education or go to a resource room,” he said.

VanderWall went on to earn a degree from Michigan State University, which he says had the best program for people with disabilities, leading to a study abroad opportunity in Ireland. 

It was the very activity that took his sight, which later helped VanderWall see all that he could accomplish. He was invited to a special youth ranch.

“They gave me the opportunity to actually go hunting, and I shot an eight-point doe. It really opened my eyes that even though I am disabled, if there’s a will, there is a way,” he said. 

Patrick Parkes is the business development coordinator at Disability Advocates of Kent County. He also has a personal understanding of the importance of the ADA as he relies on a wheelchair.

He has spent his adult life working to affect change and make leaders in business and government see how innovation, rather than compliance, can be a business asset.

“The market of individuals with disabilities is about the size of China. You think about how that even expands further when you add in all of their family members and caregivers,” Parkes explained.

He’s encouraged by all the conversations happening now about inclusion.

“The challenge for us is then reminding people that disability is a part of that conversation. I think the all-important part of that conversation is because it’s a minority that anybody can join at any time,” Parkes said.

He pointed out that at least 80% of Americans will experience a disability, long or short-term, at some point in their lives and that innovative thinking can benefit everyone, not just people with permanent disabilities. 

VanderWall has accomplished more than he ever thought he would in the time following his accident, including becoming a husband and a father. He has a three-year-old girl with a son on the way in the fall.

“(My daughter) will say, ‘Daddy, watch me! I’m going down the slide!’ and things like that… so she gets it, but she doesn’t at the same time,” he said of spending time at home with her.

VanderWall is currently an intern at Disability Advocates of Kent County but hopes to find employment.

“I just have to keep pushing forward and things will come to me, or I will make opportunities for myself,” he said.

The Disability Advocates of Kent County will be hosting an ADA celebration from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday on its YouTube channel and Facebook page.

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