Karen Tamley is commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and is working to make Chicago more accessible for people with special needs. She lives in Chicago with husband Kevin Irvine and daughter, Dominika, 8.
How accessible is Chicago? Is there more work you want to do?
We’ve made significant progress in terms of accessibility. All of our buses are accessible, an increasing number of rail stations are accessible. We have installed more than 53,000 curb ramps in 2007. Our office is working really hard to make sure our events and city services are accessible for people with disabilities. There’s always work to be done. (The goal is to make Chicago the most accessible city in the country.)
What advice do you have for parents raising children with special needs in Chicago?
Be an advocate for your child. Seek out resources, make connections with other families. I think there’s tremendous value in that peer support. Having high expectations of your kids is really critical. Those high expectations can go a long way in terms of furthering your child’s independence.
What has been the most surprising thing about being a mom?
It’s things that you don’t expect, it’s the joy, just the absolute joy of having a kid and raising them, seeing them grow. Just that there’s ups and downs, some days can be really hard. It’s hard to understand how great it can be until you are in the situation. I had no real expectation of what it would truly be like until I became a parent.
What has been the hardest?
I think being a working mom, it can be hard to balance everything and making sure you are every where you need to be and doing what you need to do. I think I have managed it pretty well, but sometimes it can be kind of stressful.
What is your favorite thing to do with your daughter and husband on the weekend?
One thing we really like to do is go bike riding. I have a hand cycle and my husband has a bike that attaches to hers and we love going bike riding and exploring new trails in and around the city of Chicago.
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