We are proud to announce that the 2018 recipient of the Peter Zarba Humanitarian of the Year Award is Jim Weisman, President and CEO of United Spinal Association. Jim has spent over 35 years working to protect the rights of people with disabilities and advocating for inclusion and accessibility. We salute him for his dedication, leadership and advocacy on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities.
Motivated by Love
Jim is a legendary storyteller and the story of how he become involved with disabled community is one of his best.
“When I was 16, I followed a girl I was interested in to a day camp for children with disabilities. I couldn’t drive yet and had no job. My father said, “summer school or work” and that volunteering counted as work, so I volunteered at the camp. I met Paul Hearne there who had osteogenesis imperfecta. He was a little older than I was, so he could drive. We became friends and I made friends with other teenagers with disabilities. Paul and I went to law school at the same time but not together. In 1977, the year I graduated law school, HEW Secretary Joseph Califano had signed the first set of Section 504 regulations. I ran into Paul on the street in Manhattan and said congratulations and he said, “it’s just a piece of paper.” That night, despite knowing each other for 10 years, we had our first conversation about the rights of people with disabilities. Two months later, we were working together at Community Action for Legal Services, Inc., where we opened the first architecturally accessible Legal Services Corp. office in NYC. ” ~ Numotion Blog, October 2017
Becoming an Advocate
After graduating Seton Hall University Law School in 1977, he partnered with Paul Hearne and opened the first wheelchair accessible law office in NYC.
“As soon as we opened the doors, people with disabilities came in,” he says. “They had traditional legal needs, but they also were complaining about all the institutions that were discriminating against them — housing, employment, transportation, education — all that kind of stuff. At that point we realized there was a disability rights movement for real and that we were going to be a part of it.” ~ United Spinal Blog, June 2017
He went on to join United Spinal (then called Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association) as an attorney in 1979. Today Jim is routinely consulted by advocates, attorneys, employers, real estate developers and others seeking to include people with disabilities in their workforce, programs and customer bases.
Suing for Access
Eleven years before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Weisman sued NYC’s transit system. The successful suit won bus access, key subway and rail station access and the creation of a para-transit program to supplement mass transit for those whose disabilities prevent them from using bus and rail systems. He also sued Philadelphia’s transit system yielding similar results by 1988. These landmark settlements opened the door for advocates to move forward with the ADA.
“The most significant thing I’ve ever participated in was the crafting of, and lobbying for, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The transportation provisions of the Act are based on settlement agreements EPVA (now called United Spinal Association) made with NYC and Philadelphia, not because they were brilliant but because we had to grandfather-in the NYC and Philadelphia deals to garner Democratic Congressional support” ~ Numotion Blog, October 2017
NYC Curb Cuts
Thank Jim for all the curb cuts we take for granted here in NYC.
His successful 2002 suit against NYC for curb ramps has resulted in a $243 million expenditure to date.
Accessible Taxi Service
United Spinal, led by Mr. Weisman, was successful in getting NYC’s yellow cabs to be 50% accessible by 2020.
Help honor Jim at Mardi Gras 2018. See details here.