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Steven Foelsch - A Busy Advocate for People with Disabilities

  • Published: 2015-10-09 (Revised/Updated 2015-10-14) : Author: Starkloff Disability Institute in St. Louis : Contact: Starkloff Disability Institute
  • Synopsis: Steven Foelsch, Director of Education Programs at Starkloff Disability Institute, enjoys the best of both worlds.

Quote: "I began to realize that my disability is more of a social condition, rather than a medical condition."

Main Document

From his apartment near Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis, Steve Foelsch can hear the crowd roar when the Cardinals play baseball, yet his home is also just a few blocks from the Starkloff Disability Institute offices where he works as Director of Education Programs.

"You might say I get the best of both worlds. I love the Cardinals and attend as many games as I can, and in my job I enjoy being with every person I work with - they are caring people committed to making the world a better place for people with disabilities."

In 1985 Steve broke his neck in a motorcycle accident that left him with quadriplegia, paralyzed from the shoulders down. That didn't stop him from earning an undergraduate degree in history and anthropology, as well as a master's degree in education from the University of Missouri. He initially found the job market for history teachers unwelcoming, so Steve earned certificates qualifying him to teach social studies and Spanish.

In 2004 he met Colleen Starkloff and started reading the books she gave him about disability rights. When that happened, Steve began to view his situation in a new light: "I began to realize that my disability is more of a social condition, rather than a medical condition."

Colleen was looking for teachers with disabilities who were interested in disability rights and could help her design and teach courses in the field of disability. She hired Steve to work at SDI where he became primarily responsible for establishing SDI's Disability Studies Library. This is a comprehensive, up-to-date bank of knowledge focusing on disability history, laws, advocacy, communication skills, accessibility measuring and other information that supports the 2005 Disability Studies Initiative at Maryville University.

With Colleen and Steve's assistance, Maryville initiated a new undergraduate degree program in 2005 called Rehabilitation Services that today includes a Certificate in Independent Living. SDI designed seven courses for this specialization. As an adjunct instructor Steve teaches six of those courses at Maryville in addition to his role as SDI Director of Education Programs.

"It is really important that a person who is disabled teach such classes, rather than an instructor who does not have disabilities, because the ultimate impact on students is much more real and more meaningful for the learning experience," Steve said. "SDI is unique in its insistence that instructors with disabilities teach such classes and are involved with other SDI programs, such as The Next Big Step initiative, which facilitates the hiring of qualified people with disabilities into competitive jobs."

Steve relishes his roles as a disability rights advocate, teacher, mentor and spokesman for the disability rights movement. He is passionate about political issues such as income caps for people with disabilities who receive government support, and working to ensure commitments to incorporate Universal Design standards in planning for homes and apartments. Perhaps most of all, Steve is passionate about introducing students to disability rights issues and helping prepare them for good jobs when they graduate.

In September 2014, Steve was appointed by St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay to a three-year term on the board of the St. Louis Affordable Housing Commission, which promotes city living and neighborhood stabilization. It is a public role he serves with gusto.

"To know that I am a part of the largest minority in the United States takes away feelings of isolation. To view the subject of disability as a civil rights and human rights issue helps strengthen my awareness that I am a citizen, a citizen with rights, a citizen who votes.

"I am a person who works to help make the world a better place for people with disabilities."


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