Jesse Anderson: Community Advocate and Legal Aid Board Member

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Long-time community advocate and Legal Aid board member Jesse Anderson is concluding a year as chairperson of Legal Aid’s grievance committee.

The committee works to ensure that clients are being treated fairly. Anderson’s term as committee chair wiill end soon, but his commitment to the disenfranchised of Cleveland, especially the physically disabled, goes back more than 30 years and will continue.

Born and raised in Harlan County Kentucky, Anderson came north with a wave of other industrial workers. His search eventually led him to Cleveland, where he worked until 1964, when an accident left him in a wheelchair.

“My advocacy work began out of something very personal for me,” said Anderson. “Before my injury I was a skilled tradesman. After I became disabled I knew I needed to retrain myself to make a living, but I couldn’t get to school. I couldn’t even go shopping. The options were so limited back then, just getting out of the house was such a pain.”

Convinced that something needed to be done to enhance the prospects of disabled individuals, Anderson became a community advocate, speaking out for better transportation options as part of the Disabled Rights Task Force. In 1977, his work began to pay off and he secured an appointment as the Ohio representative on a national committee focused on rights for the disabled.

“Some of my earliest encounters with Legal Aid involved strategy meetings for dealing with the local transit authority and department of transportation,” said Anderson. “They helped us focus and develop strategies for drawing attention to issues the handicapped were facing.”

Much has changed since Anderson began his work. The Americans with Disabilities Act and pressure from disabled advocates have led to a fleet of handicapped accessible transit vehicles, as well as the paratransit system, which provides door-to-door transportation services to many disabled individuals.

“I think we’ve come a long way,” said Anderson. “Just trying to get a wheelchair was difficult when I got hurt. Transportation services for people with disabilities were very limited. These things were just a dream back then.”

Moving into the future, Anderson hopes more work can be done to secure quality employment for people with physical disabilities. As someone who once struggled, he feels it’s important to remember that anyone can become one of tomorrow’s leaders.

In addition to ending his term as chair of the grievance committee, Mr. Anderson also retires from Legal Aid’s board of directors in December – he finishes his second of two three-year terms. Mr. Anderson is one of eight low-income community members who represent the voice of Legal Aid’s clients on Legal Aid’s board of directors.

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