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Diversity Boston

Champion of the cause

Advocate for disabled leads by example

Kristen McCosh, commissioner for persons with disabilities, in her office at Boston's City Hall. Kristen McCosh, commissioner for persons with disabilities, in her office at Boston's City Hall. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff Photo)
By Caroline Hailey
Globe Correspondent / December 5, 2010

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Kristen McCosh was 15 when a diving accident left her in a wheelchair. Since then, McCosh, 42, has been an advocate for people with disabilities. The Boston native has spread her message of empowerment as Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts (2007) and Ms. Wheelchair America (2008), and by mentoring others with disabilities at the Greater Boston chapter of the New England Spinal Cord Injury Association. In October, Mayor Thomas M. Menino named McCosh the commissioner of the Persons with Disabilities advisory board, a group of nine volunteers who give feedback on important issues for people with disabilities. McCosh recently spoke with Globe correspondent Caroline Hailey.

What are your priorities in your new position?

I want to work on policy issues that will make things more inclusive for people with disabilities, including the Boston Public Schools , Boston Housing Authority, and emergency preparedness. I also want to work toward making sidewalks, transportation, and polling places more accessible by providing information and training on what the Americans with Disabilities Act requires.

How accessible is Boston for people with physical disabilities?

I've traveled extensively across the country, and Boston is one of the most accessible cities I've seen. Boston's biggest strength is its advocates — disabled people and their families. They're educated, organized, and speak out for themselves. Boston has some architectural barriers because it's a very old city, but it's really progressive in social policy and awareness. Other cities aren't aware of what the Americans with Disabilities Act is, but advocates here really are. The biggest problem for people with disabilities is in rural areas that lack public transportation or even paved roads, but Boston is very accessible.

You say you lead by example. How?

I try to live my life as everyone else does and do the same things — go to school, work, get married. If nondisabled people see more people in wheelchairs shopping, out on college campuses, or working, it becomes an everyday normal experience, and that's great.