Sunday, March 6, 2011

Independent living pioneer Jim Tuscher of St. Louis Paraquad dies

From The Joplin Independent in Mo.:

Jim Tuscher, pictured, disability rights leader and vice president of public policy at Paraquad passed away on Tuesday, Mar. 1, 2011. He was a longtime staff member of Paraquad, one of the first 10 federally-funded independent living centers in the country.

"The legacy left by Jim Tuscher is tremendous," said Robert Funk, Paraquad executive director and CEO. "Jim has made countless contributions to the disability community in St. Louis, in Missouri, and nationally."

"Jim's career followed the independent living movement; charting advancements for disability rights among centers for independent living, spearheading initiatives that changed state legislation and identifying national opportunities for sustainable change, said Funk."

Tuscher began working with Paraquad during a sabbatical from Forest Park Community College. He strongly supported Paraquad founder Max Starkloff's vision that people with disabilities should be fully integrated into society. Tuscher joined the Paraquad staff in 1979 and served as program director for 10 years.

"Jim designed independent living programs that help people identify what they want to achieve and plan to reach those goals. After realizing that a greater number of lives could be impacted through policy changes, Jim began working on legislative priorities and the Public Policy Department at Paraquad was created," said Paraquad board chair Robert Huskey.

Tuscher was a leader in advancing disability rights in Missouri. He helped to develop and successfully lobbied for a consumer-controlled personal care program funded through Vocational Rehabilitation. Since the late 1980's, the self-directed personal assistance program has grown to over 10,000 people with disabilities.

"Through the years, Jim was instrumental in securing funding to bring 22 Centers for Independent Living to Missouri. Jim also worked to get an 'Independent Living Fund' which receives a percentage of revenue from court tickets," Huskey said.

Tuscher helped pass absentee voting laws that greatly increase the ease and access to absentee voting for people with disabilities. He lobbied successfully for stronger disabled parking laws that closed loopholes and established a process to remove invalid parking tags. He worked with parents from St. Louis County for a bill that created an oversight mechanism for the Special School District, a parent advisory committee and public review process. Other issues he worked on include hate crimes law, health care, assistive technology, statewide building codes, and welfare reform. He also played an important role on the state level as Chair of the Governor's Council on Disability serving under three administrations.

At the national level, Tuscher worked as Missouri's field leader in advocating for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He was part of organizing the Americans with Disabilities Vote project, and has implemented similar initiatives at the state and local levels. Tuscher also advocated nationally on issues including appropriations, education, the Rehabilitation Act, threats to Americans with Disabilities Act, health care, and personal assistance.

"Throughout his career, Jim served as a peer and mentor. Jim provided peer support to individuals who were newly disabled, helping them learn how to do things such as driving with hand controls, finding the right wheelchair, and modifying their home. He also served as a role model and mentor to several Center for Independent Living directors and staff as they organized and started new centers. As a leader at Paraquad, he provided training and mentorship to staff, instilling in them the passion for disability rights and knowledge of systems change strategies," Funk said.

For a YouTube video of Tuscher discussing his background and early involvement with the "Independent Living Movement," go here.