Wed. April 25, 2012
6:00pm, SUB Acoma A/B
CSUSB Alumnus Plans Disabled Worker Awareness Trek Along Route 66
Contact: Sid Robinson
San Bernadino, CA. — Starting at the pier in Santa Monica and riding his motorcycle all the way to Chicago along Route 66, Chris Russell, a Cal State San Bernadino graduate, will travel the Mother Road to raise awareness that men and women with disabilities are indeed employable and capable of good work.
As the country languishes in an 8.5 percent unemployment rate, unemployment among Americans with disabilities skies much higher at 64 percent, says Russell. He cites the Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute study doen in 2009.
The numbers can vary among research agencies and organizations. But Russell believes that the Cornell study is a reliable and objective source.
A talented and routinely underrated workforce is largely ignored, he says. Most of these workers may not have the soundest bodies, but they do have minds that work as well – and often better – than any other, says Russell, who graduated from CSUSB with his B.A. in communication studies in 2007. He hopes to enter the communication studies master’s program at CSUSB this spring.
In the fall of 1988, Russell almost died from injuries he suffered in a plane crash. The two-seater Aeronca in which he was a passenger had just taken off from Hesperia Airport when the plane lost lift and smashed into a hill. The crash claimed nine months of Russell’s memory before the accident and two or three months of his memory afterward. He woke up with an arm, leg, neck and hip all in braces.
For about 15 years, Russell wore what he called “Herman Munster shoes,” because they were so large. Leg braces helped him walk.
Before the crash, Russell had been a decorated police officer, having earned a valor award and several commendations with the Los Angeles County Safety Police Department. But he also had been a dancer, played handball and racquetball and loved to run.
“Once the airplane crash hit me it ruined my body in so many ways,” says Russell. “It took from 1988 to 2000, 2001 to be put together well enough that I could go out and start doing things. That’s the reason why if I wasn’t resting up from an operation I was waiting for an operation. I was just trying to heal.”
As Russell began to function closer to “normal,” he wanted something to do. He went to the San Bernadino County Department of Rehabilitation, where he took test after test and was fully convinced he’d have to get a job “putting doll heads on dolls.”
But the tests sent things a different way.
The rehabilitation department offered him, instead, the chance to attend Cal State San Bernadino – all expenses paid. He began in the winter of 2003 and graduated from the university four years later.
Despite the physical limitations and the daily battles against pain, Russell still moves about. That’s the message in his journey, he says. He’s hoping to help employees see that people like him can work.
“It’s to show that a handicapped person – and I hate that word – a person who society perceives as ‘handicapped’, is capable of doing things,” says Russell. “When I was going to school, we always had it a little bit harder for us to do what we had to do. We had to go the ACRC” – the Academic Computing Resource Center. “There was always that extra bump in the road… Every student that’s handicapped that graduates from here did what ever normal student did, plus that bump in the road.”
Employers, says Russell, know that they’ve had to make work areas and bathrooms accessible for disabled men and women. But they’re not really aware of what these same men and women can do. “They haven’t learned that people – whose bodies are like mine and maybe don’t work as well – people with minds are just as capable as anybody else.”
The able mind of the so-called “disabled” is what Russell hopes employers will see in a way they’ve never seen it before. His website puts the idea front and center. While he continues to refine the site, he launched “Minds Do Matter,” at mindsdomatter.org in December.
Like his ride on Route 66, Russell wants the site to help Americans see that a physical limitation doesn’t put limits on the mind. So Route 66 is only one part of Russell’s journey. He also wants to speak at colleges and universities along the way and has been contacting many to see who will be willing to listen.
When he leaves in April, Russell will ride a vintage Valkyrie, a 1997 1500 cc high-performance motorcycle made by Honda. Last year, he purchased it from a Van Nuys man, who sold it to Russell for $1,000 less than the original asking price after Russell told him how he was going to use the bike. Russell also has secrued a sponsorship from B&B Motorcycles in Victorville.
For more information, go to mindsdomatter.org or call the CSUSB Office of Public Affairs at (909) 537-5007 for digital images of Chris Russell.