Columbia speaker series to honor disability advocate Christy Welliver

Tuesday, July 9, 2013 | 6:26 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The CoMo Disabilities Advocacy Network will kick off the Christy Welliver Speaker Series with a talk by former U.S. Rep. Tony Coelho, D-Calif.

Coelho, who was a primary sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, will appear from noon to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Community Room at Boone Electric Cooperative, 1413 Range Line St.

The series aims to bring more attention to disabilities issues and advocacy.

"In talking with disability leaders in the community, we were looking for ways to get people excited about disability issues," said Sean Spence, who started the CoMo Disabilities Advocacy Network. 

When coming up with a title for the series, Spence said Welliver, a Columbia activist,  was an obvious choice.

"Looking back at our last 20 years, she has been one of the leading disabilities advocates in central Missouri," Spence said. "It’s only fitting that an event celebrating advocacy is named after her." 

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1985, Welliver worked with organizations such as PedNet and the Columbia Disabilities Commission to improve the lives of people  with disabilities. She died in 2011.

A memorial planned for Stephens Lake Park will also honor Welliver's commitment to the city of Columbia, and a ceremonial groundbreaking is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday.  

Donations to fund the free, public series are coming from sponsors including the MU Disability Services and Boone County Family Resources, Spence said. 

Spence also noted the generosity of those who are invited to speak; Coelho is paying his own way to attend the event. 

"I have been amazed by the generosity of these people," Spence said. "In most cases, we are paying travel expenses, but none of them are charging fees." 

Ultimately, Spence relishes the chance to bring national-level champions of the disabilities movement to a local audience. Although dates have not been yet been finalized, future speakers include Colleen Starkloff, co-founder of one of the nation’s first independent living centers; Lex Frieden, one of the primary authors of the Americans with Disabilities Act; and Mark Johnson, a founder of Adapt, a national community that organizes disability rights activists. 

"People seem really excited about seeing some of the most important disability advocates in the last 20 to 30 years," Spence said. "They are thrilled at the idea that they’re coming to Columbia." 

Supervising editor is John Schneller

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