Disabled rights advocate Palames honored at Holyoke Community College

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Staff Writer
Published: 6/9/2018 12:16:10 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Even though significant progress has been made in ensuring public accommodations are accessible for disabled individuals, the need for advocacy on a range of issues affecting those with physical, developmental and cognitive disabilities continues for Florence resident Chris Palames.

The founder of the Stavros Center for Independent Living, and at the forefront of advocating for the rights of disabled individuals for more than 40 years, Palames earned the Distinguished Service Award during Holyoke Community College’s commencement June 2.

“It was such an honor,” Palames said. “I felt like I was sharing the award with people who have been champions for disability rights.”

Palames is the executive director of Independent Living Resources in Florence, chairman of the Northampton Commission on Disability and has served as consultant to the Massachusetts Division of Capital and Asset Management.

Palames also worked for Gov. Michael Dukakis from 1984 to 1988, prior to the wave of disability rights that was enshrined in the Americans with Diasbilities Act.

At the community college, Palames offers advice to the college’s Office for Students with Disabilities and Deaf Services.

College President Christina Royal presented the award during the commencement at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, thanking Palames for the work he has done.

“Chris has long been a valued friend of HCC, and, as a consultant for the commonwealth, has had a significant role in helping to make HCC and other Massachusetts colleges more welcoming and accessible to all,” Royal said.

Palames said he looks forward to continuing conversations with college officials and advocating at the state level for more resources for higher education so they can meet the needs of disabled people.

He understands with money tight there are often shortfalls in meeting terms of the ADA law, but he has made appeals to Attorney General Maura Healey to get compliance. Palames said he is a big supporter of the work she has done on behalf of disability rights.

Palames notes that while building accessibility is often what gets attention, there are other aspects, such as employment, communication and technology, where accessibility is also vital.

Palames began his activism as a freshman at Wesleyan University in the 1960s and demonstrated for civil rights on the lawn of the White House. Even after a spinal cord injury left him a quadriplegic, he returned to activism, protesting the Vietnam War while completing his bachelor’s degree in psychology.

But at his own graduation, student strikers opted against putting on the graduation robe and mortarboard for the occasion. That meant last weekend was the first time he had put them on.

“It was a kick to wear a gown,” Palames said. “It was a really nice day.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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