Vanessa Harris, PE, appeared on WGN Weekend News with Gaynor Hall. The following versions of the interviews are open captioned with American Sign Language. Transcripts of the Evening News and Morning News are below.
WGN WEEKEND EVENING NEWS:
VANESSA HARRIS: Well, I have multiple disabilities myself and I have found that the media doesn’t normally address people with disabilities that much.
GAYNOR HALL: Retired engineer Vanessa Harris took a documentary class at the Hyde Park Art Center that sparked a new passion for inclusive storytelling.
VANESSA HARRIS: People with disabilities are always thought to be, there’s a negative association with them and I’m trying to bring joy.
GAYNOR HALL: She’s the founder of the Strategy for Access Foundation and the website, Fun for the Disabled, which creates content, celebrating people with disabilities, connecting them with an array of resources. More than 500,000 Chicagoland residents report having a disability.
A report recently released by Mayor Johnson’s transition team calls for strengthening the city’s office that serves people with disabilities.
GUEST: and there is no economic vitality without inclusion.
VANESSA HARRIS: – The mission of our organization is to show that Chicago should be known as an international leader, as a disability-friendly city.
GAYNOR HALL: – Last month, Harris’s work received a big boost.
VANESSA HARRIS: – I can’t believe it. (laughs)
GAYNOR HALL: – She was one of 10 people selected in the Field Foundation’s 2023 class of leaders for a new Chicago. The honor comes with a $25,000 award and a $25,000 grant for her organization.
VANESSA HARRIS: -We’re shooting videos this year that show that tourist venues in Chicago are accessible. We’re making short videos with people with disabilities in places like Lincoln Park Zoo, the DuSable Museum, and now we can move forward.
GAYNOR HALL: Gaynor Hall, WGN news
WGN MORNING NEWS:
GAYNOR HALL: Building a more inclusive city, the Field Foundation’s Leaders for a New Chicago program recognizes people who are making an impact in the fields of art, justice, media, and storytelling. Joining us today, one of the 2023 leaders, Vanessa Harris from Strategy for Access and Fun4theDisabled. Vanessa, so good to have you in studio with us.
VANESSA HARRIS: Thank you, Gaynor.
GAYNOR HALL: And I want you to tell us a little bit about your journey because you were a retired engineer and then transitioned into the work that you’re doing now. Tell us about it.
VANESSA HARRIS: Yeah, well, I’m a licensed professional engineer, and I worked in hazardous waste. And when I retired, I wanted to get into documentaries because it was something– I used to like watching videos on MTV. So I like watching all kinds of videos. And I thought that’s so much fun. I want to do that. And there is an art center in my neighborhood, the Hyde Park Art Center, which offered a documentary class. And so I took it, and I did a documentary there. And the artist told me that I did a really good job interviewing her. And she said you should do more.
GAYNOR HALL: – And so now, with Fun4theDisabled, you are creating a platform and content for people with disabilities, right? Why was it important for you to do that? And why was that? It’s needed, obviously.
VANESSA HARRIS: – Well, I have multiple disabilities myself, and I have found that the media doesn’t normally address people with disabilities that much. Not only that, but it’s people with disabilities are always thought to be, there’s a negative association with them, and I’m trying to bring joy. And people who have disabilities wanna be proud that they’re disabled and are able to be problem solvers.
GAYNOR HALL: – Right. – So tell me what was your gut reaction when you found out that you had been selected in this 2023 cohort of leaders?
VANESSA HARRIS: – I can’t believe it. (laughs) When they set up the Zoom call, I thought it was an interview to ask me some more questions. I didn’t know it was to let me know that I had already won.
GAYNOR HALL: – And what are you planning to do in this year ahead because this comes with funding to help you and the organization as well?
VANESSA HARRIS: – Yeah, well, the mission of our organization is to show that Chicago should be known as an international leader, as a disability-friendly city. And so we’re shooting videos this year that show that tourist venues in Chicago are accessible. We’re making short videos with people with disabilities in places like Lincoln Park Zoo, the DuSable Museum, the Field Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, and showing that they’re accessible. And we got that funding and it required a match. So now that we’ve won this additional money, we can use that money to match the money and now we can move forward.
GAYNOR HALL: – That’s really great. Vanessa, thank you so much for coming in this morning.
Congratulations again to you on this honor. And for more information on all of the leaders for New Chicago, you can check out our website, wgntv.com. Top Stories coming up next.