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Just Include Me – Creating Greater Access for All

Happy 2017!Jim Eli

2016. A year that shook many of us to our core. A year that began with the greatest personal loss of our lives and ended with massive collective grief as we came to grips with how fractured our world has become.  And yet, it was also a year of coming together, of fierce commitment to standing strong in love and in unity.

On January 19, 2016, Jim Eli, Ellis Planning Associates’ Vice President, as well as my husband, passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. We are dedicating our first blog of 2017 to him and to the pioneering work he was doing to create greater access to people with disabilities.  As we look to the future – of our company, of our priorities, and of our world – we are grounded in the love and passion Jim brought to his work.  When we picked ourselves back up after his death and began to reconstitute our lives and our company, we were inspired by his approach to life and declared, “we will only accept work that feeds our souls.”  That we found ourselves working with FREED Independent Living Center on their three-year strategic plan in those early months was no surprise.

The night before he passed, Jim’s work with FREED to develop employment services for people with disabilities had just come to fruition.  FREED’s Executive Director, Ana Acton, shared this at his Celebration of Life:

Jim worked closely with us over the last year, in total harmony with our organization and staff.  Working in the independent living movement, understanding the power of individuals with disabilities having equal opportunity and the ability to make their own choices in how they live, play, shop, and work, was something that our organization has been working on for years and it immediately became clear that Jim “got it”. 

Just Include Me

Shortly after Jim died, our friends and colleagues at The Kiely Group came up with this acronym on a napkin for the virtual accessibility work we are launching in his honor.

He understood and embodied FREED’s drive to create real opportunity for people with disabilities, the understanding that you cannot have independence without employment and you cannot have employment without independence. We were honored to work alongside Jim – deepening FREED’s understanding of the business world and what WE are capable of – deepening Jim’s understanding of the real issues, stereotypes, and misunderstandings that keep people with disabilities from living their dreams.  

Jim did not just create a business plan but he tied everything up into a nice bow, leaving us ready to take on the future as a contractor with the Social Security Administration. 

I am not sure if or how Jim knew that his end was near but it was the very evening before he passed away that I received an email so characteristic of him – the type of communication that gave you the feeling that he was behind you 100%, that helped confirm and validate that you are on the right path:

“I am excited by the possibilities you have set into motion, and I’m seeing how ignorance in the business realm creates opportunity for FREED. Now slip into this beautiful evening.”

Next we’ll share the work Jim shepherded to increase virtual accessibility for people with disabilities. 

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