Milwaukee disability rights advocate Ellen Daly dies at 82

As 2019 came to an end, Milwaukee celebrated the life and achievements of Ellen Daly, and mourned the loss of the disability rights advocate. Paralyzed back in 1963 at age 26, Daly was a housewife and mother of five who transformed herself into an effective champion of rights enjoyed today.

Her daughter Eileen told the Journal Sentinel that her mother’s “grit and determination” were evident early on in their bustling home, and later enabled her to help shape Wisconsin legislation and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the daughter, Ellen’s advocacy began in the ’60s when she received a jury summons notice. When she called the courthouse to find out which entrance would accommodate her wheelchair, she was told not to bother. The law stipulated that the disabled weren’t fit for jury duty.

Her daughter remembers that “from that day forward she was a force to be reckoned with.”

Ellen and her husband, Thomas, joined Milwaukee’s chapter of the National Paraplegia Foundation. By 1972, Ellen was the local president. A decade later she was head of the Governor’s Committee for People with Disabilities in Madison and in the late ’80s, she joined the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and moved to Washington DC.

Daughter Eileen says her mom’s “crown jewel” was helping shape and pass the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires public spaces to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Longtime colleague Jean Logan said Daly wasn’t among those who “yelled and ranted and demanded change,” but was instead a behind-the-scenes advocate – “rational and thoughtful, who could really have a conversation about how to (bring about change).”

Milwaukee will always miss Daly, but she did not take the struggle with her.

The fight against disability discrimination goes on in courtrooms and negotiations. The employment law attorneys of Alan C. Olson and Associates can help you protect your workplace rights.


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