After 21 years at the helm of LIFE Center for Independent Living, Gail Kear is retiring.
During her tenure at LIFE CIL, Kear expanded the organization to serve a four-county area, and also saw positive changes on the local and national level regarding those with disabilities.
"The passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act is the civil rights law for people with disabilities," said Kear. "Although change has come slowly, it has been a very positive change. I don't think people even recognize the conveniences that are out there for everyone because of the accessibility of public spaces nowadays."
While automatic doors and intersection ramps have helped those with disabilities, there's still more work to be done beyond infrastructure, said Kear. Technology, she said, still has a way to go.
"Telephone technology has been changing very, very rapidly over the last 10 years, and in many cases has outrun allowing the technology to be accessible to people with hearing loss."
Initially, digital interference inhibited those with hearing impairments from using some of the first smart phones.
"But Bluetooth technology is coming to hearing aides," said Kear. "And phones have Bluetooth. There's a lag time, but the technology does eventually begin to catch up."
Kear noted that attitudes towards disabled persons are improving. She credits new laws that guarantee children with disabilities the right to go to school and have the services that they needed in order to participate with changing attitudes.
"Originally, children with disabilities were segregated in 'special classrooms' usually at the furthest end of the building. And then they began doing what they call 'mainstreaming,' integrating children with and without disabilities into the same classrooms. So younger kids started growing up with children with all kinds of similarities and differences, and have learned to see the person and not the disability.
"I think that that has made a tremendous difference in the community perception and acceptance and inclusiveness of people with disabilities," she said.
Kear says after 21 years at LIFE CIL, what she'll miss the most is her team.
"This group that I work with is my other family."
Rickielee Benecke will succeed Kear as executive director of the organization.
You can also listen to GLT's full interview with Kear:
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.