ELIZA CALLIS, Evergreen reporter
November 19, 2020
Mark Leeper has dedicated the last three decades of his life to helping people with disabilities as the executive director of Disability Action Center Northwest (DAC NW).
The Idaho Nonprofit Center awarded DAC NW the outstanding nonprofit award on Idaho Philanthropy Day on Nov. 9. The Idaho Nonprofit Center organizes the award to recognize organizations that go above and beyond in philanthropic work, Leeper said.
DAC NW provides people with disabilities in the northern Idaho area with resources, like independent Living Specialists and help with applying for Housing Choice Vouchers, so they can live independently, Leeper said.
After the approval of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, Leeper said he created DAC NW in 1992 along with a board of directors. The nonprofit eventually opened centers in Moscow, Post Falls, Lewiston and Spokane.
The organization is run almost entirely by people with disabilities. Leeper lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression, which gives him the insight to offer peer-to-peer help.
“Advocacy is the underpinning,” Leeper said. “Both self-advocacy and system advocacy.”
The nonprofit’s mission is to build a community that achieves equality and accessibility, said Vicki Leeper, marketing specialist of the Moscow branch. Staff members at the organization want to give people with disabilities the choice to attend any school they want or work in any job they want.
“We help people with disabilities get employed, we give budgeting help, accessible housing or find technology that could help one that’s hard at hearing or vision-related problems,” Vicki said.
DAC NW aims to work with company online platforms to make their services more available to those who need to use screen readers or other assistive technologies, she said. The DAC NW online program, BluePath, is a website that lists out businesses that are accessible, so people using their services know where to shop or eat.
Leeper said he is looking to connect more with younger people. The Spokane office is the newest branch of DAC, and its focus is on helping young adults achieve independent living.
The award from the Idaho Nonprofit Center is a testament to the work the staff has accomplished in the community by reaching out to other organizations, such as food banks, and improving accessibility on roads and parks, Vicki said.
“It’s recognition of our efforts to break down barriers between organizations and work collaboratively to make a difference,” Leeper said.
When Leeper received the award, it was one of the most impactful moments that highlighted the work DAC NW has done, he said.
Leeper said he has witnessed an increase of curb cuts in Moscow, an ADA-compliant ramp in the sidewalk, after their conversations with general service administrations.
Downtown Pullman has also made improvements, he said. Administrators added more curb cuts and are working on creating more accessible parking and public spaces.
“Moscow always asks what they can do to go over and beyond,” Vicki said. “They’ve made all parks accessible.”
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