Guest Author - Jeanetta Polenske
On December 27, 2011, Max Starkloff passed away in his own home. In 1959, after an accident had left him a quadriplegic, he continued to live at home with his parents for several years. Other housing choices at this time were pretty much limited to institutions and nursing homes. He spent 12 years living in a nursing home and dreamed of living as an independent adult.
Max’s inspiration came in 1970 when he took at trip to Berkeley, California and met a man named Ed Roberts. Mr. Roberts, also a quadriplegic, had enrolled at the University of California. His example inspired more people with disabilities to also enroll. Collectively, they started the Physically Disabled Students’ Program to help students with disabilities accomplish their educational goals.
Mr. Starkloff returned back to St. Louis with the intention of setting up a similar program. Soon after his return, he moved out of the nursing home and was married. He and his wife, Colleen, started Paraquad, a group that became part of the movement for independent living for the disabled. He encouraged others to live in their own homes, work and live their lives as they chose.
Paraquad was responsible for influencing the city to install lifts on buses, redesign curbs and build apartments that were accessible to the disabled. Other cities around the country used the St. Louis model to make similar improvements in their communities.
The Starkloffs also started the Starkloff Disability Institute, a non-profit organization that helps promote equality for the disabled. The institute has one program called, “The Next Big Step” which partners with companies to open opportunities for employment. They also provide a speaker series to educate the public about the disability culture.
In addition, they have partnered with a local college to provide courses in Disability Studies to prepare disabled students for employment following completion of this specialty program. Universal Design is the first conference in the U.S. to focus on communities and help them understand housing needs for the disabled. The institute has also formed, “Direct Action”, a group that affects legislation that concerns disability issues.
Max Starkloff was a pioneer in the field. His work changed the world’s perception of disability and has influenced the integration of the disabled into the mainstream. He was a model for those of us that need to turn, “I can’t” into, “I will”. Colleen Starkloff continues to be active in the organizations that she and her husband began.
Max and Colleen’s work has influenced the disabled to live more independent and productive lives as integrated members of their communities.