FIGHTING FOR INDEPENDENCE - Advocate pushes for disability rights

As an actor, Alan Toy has worked in dozens of films and television shows, including "In the Line of Fire," "Born on the Fourth of July," "Matlock," "Diagnosis Murder," "Highway to Heaven" and "M*A*S*H." People recognize him as Professor Finley, the nasty cult leader on "Beverly Hills 90210."

Alan Toy
Alan Toy of the Advanced Policy Institute works tirelessly to help make seniors and people with disabilities self-sufficient.

But in real life, Toy pursues a passion beyond the big and small screen. He is pushing a progressive agenda that revolves around issues of access and opportunity for persons with disabilities.

Toy, project director in the Advanced Policy Institute (API) in the School of Public Policy and Social Research, has worked tirelessly with seniors and people with disabilities

to help them become self-sufficient. A wheelchair user as a result of polio when he was 3, Toy was recently named by Gov. Gray Davis to the Statewide Independent Living Council, which helps persons with disabilities live independently. New technologies, he believes, can open doors for them.

"In this technology-based era, there is an enormous opportunity for people with disabilities to make more productive contributions to society," said Toy, vice chair of the council. "If we can start providing services and opportunities through technology, more and more the digital divide for people with disabilities will shrink."

At UCLA, Toy is creating a Web site that will, among other vital functions, make it possible for people in Los Angeles County to plot a wheelchair-accessible path of travel to their destination or pinpoint locations where they can access paratransit services.

Expected to launch this spring, the new site, Living Independently in Los Angeles (LILA), is being developed by the Westside Center for Independent Living and API. With a prototype now up and running, the site's developers are negotiating with the City and County of Los Angeles to obtain vital data.

With such information, people would be able to pinpoint the location of curb cuts and blue parking zones and locate disability-friendly businesses and services by going to the interactive mapping section of the Web site.

"LILA is really the 21st-century incarnation of very basic, independent-living movement philosophies," said Toy. He has hopes that LILA will become the place in cyberspace where people will rally around issues of access and civil rights.

A dedicated civil rights activist and a natural community leader, Toy is also a union activist in the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and has spoken and written about media portrayals of persons with disabilities. He has worked with the Media Access Office, Inter-Guild Committee of Performers with Disabilities and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. A Santa Monica resident, Toy has served on the city's Community Access Committee and Accessibility Appeals Board and currently chairs the city's Rent Control Board.

Toy became fascinated by urban-planning issues pertaining to home health care and disabilities after coming to UCLA as a Community Scholar in 1992. He enrolled in the urban-planning graduate program and obtained his master's degree in 1999.

"I want the university's relationship with the disability community in Los Angeles to be defined by something more than the abuse of parking permits," the activist explained. "LILA is a comprehensive project that can benefit the university and the disability community."

by Carol Tucker

source: UCLA Today

last update: 04-08-06
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