KENT: Where a lifetime of passionate storytelling and advocacy for people with disabilities was born (and a soulmate was discovered)

WRITTEN BY:
Steve Wright, '87

When I walked into Taylor Hall as an 18-year-old freshman in 1983, I had no idea that the foundation for my professional and personal life would take place there.

While earning a bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 1987, I was a section editor at the Daily Kent Stater — in a newsroom packed with future journalism giants whose achievements are too numerous to mention.

  • Portrait of Steve Wright

    Some Etiquette on Writing About People With Disabilities

    Because I write about disability, a lot of journalists ask me about language.

    First off, disabled is perfectly fine. My wife has a disability. We discourage awkward language such as differently-abled, special needs and physically-challenged.

    Wheelchair-bound and confined to a wheelchair are pejorative phrases that should be eliminated from all reporting. My wife uses a wheelchair for mobility. Her assistive mobility device is a machine for liberation – not confinement – so any language that suggest it is confining is meant to further marginalize people with disabilities.

    Driving a Toyota to a meeting 20 miles away is a wise use of mobility technology. So is using a wheelchair to get to a high level meeting with the mayor, instead of risking injury by walking with a major (my Heidi has rheumatoid arthritis) disability. No one in history has written that a Toyota driver is sedan-bound, so no article should negatively label my bride as wheelchair-bound.

 

I took an architecture survey class upstairs – cementing my life of writing about design and the built environment.

My wife of 33 years, Heidi Johnson-Wright (B.A. in English, Kent, 1982) lived next door at Prentice Hall.  My wife uses a wheelchair for mobility and did then. The seeds of my activism for people with disabilities and all marginalized folks were planted right there – in the sacred ground between Taylor and Prentice, where May 4th observances take place.

My first job was with the Columbus Dispatch (I zeroed in only on central Ohio where my wife was starting law school at Ohio State.) I figured I would work at a large daily newspaper as a reporter for 40-plus years.

I covered growth, planning, urban affairs and when I could get away with it – news, travel and lifestyle stories on people with disabilities, including the landmark passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

By 2000, I could see that print journalism would contract severely because of the internet. We wanted a fresh start in Miami. My Kent education prepared me for a life of reinvention as a storyteller.

Everything from thorough researching and sourcing to meeting deadlines and understanding my audience – came from my J-School days. Nothing prepares you to be a quick study – about something you know very little about and in time to write about it authoritatively for a client – than a Kent journalism education

My first position in Miami was as the Senior Urban Policy Advisor to the Chairman of the Miami City Commission. A decade later, I worked in marketing/business development for a series of design firms – including one of the nations’ largest and most award-winning firms.

When I turned 50, I decided to create my own storytelling firm. I advise the dozens of design clients in South Florida, the largest disability non-profit in the U.S. and the largest member organization in America — and its smart growth/land use for real estate research and communications.

 I’m still a reporter. Each year, I publish dozens of long-form articles on design for people with disabilities. I often make the cover of Planning, the magazine of the American Planning Association.

I write about Universal Design, complete streets, accessible transit, inclusive parks and other aspects of making the built environment barrier-free. My articles share best practices on design for all and remind elected and appointed officials that the ADA is federal civil rights legislation for people with disabilities — not a zoning/building code that can be waived by variance. Here’s a few of them:

I have headlined several planning and design conferences, speaking about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – through the lens of accessibility for people with disabilities.

My wife, a lifelong public servant who has been an Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for 20 years and an architecture lecturer for a decade, and I are creating an in-person and online course on Universal Design for undergraduate and graduate architecture/planning/design students.

For a decade, I have blogged daily about urban design and disability issues. I also post daily to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, sharing advocacy journalism and my healthy living journey – chronicling 140 pounds of weight loss in the past two years.

My advice to Kent Students: make your passion part of your profession and know that the platform evolves, but storytelling always is valuable.

My wish for editors, architects and all people: get over whatever makes you uncomfortable about disability and start creating a world that is inclusive and accessible to all. The CDC reports that one in four U.S. adults – 61 million Americans – have a disability that impacts major life activities. That means disability is mainstream and normal and should be treated as such.


Follow Steve Wright at http://urbantravelandaccessibility.blogspot.com

Twitter: @stevewright64

UPDATED: Tuesday, May 31, 2022 - 2:18pm