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Karen Tamley

Former Commissioner, Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities

Karen Tamley
Alex Garcia
For the last 15 years, Karen Tamley has worked to make sure Chicago’s disabled community has the same access to local government as everyone else. During her time with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, she worked tirelessly to bridge the gaps between the local government and disabled citizens.

The conversations about access to services and programs have changed significantly since the Americans with Disabilities Act came on the scene in 1990, Tamley explained. Once centered on physical access to government, technological access now dominates the conversation.  

“Access to technology is at the forefront of accessibility and really where a lot of the focus needs to be,” she said. “We’re 30 years out from the Americans with Disabilities Act and, while we’ve made a lot of progress, we have a long way to go.”

For Tamley, partnerships with city departments and public outreach to end users helped to inform the work done within her own office. She says that while technology has done a lot to improve the lives of Chicago’s disabled community, it can have an equally negative impact if left unchecked. 

“I think technology is so empowering for people with disabilities — it can really liberate people with disabilities and make our lives easier. But if we can’t afford devices or computers, or don’t have the digital literacy skills to be able to comfortably access the public services that are online, I think it can do a lot to really reinforce isolation and poverty of the disability community.”

Tamley’s last day with the city of Chicago was Feb. 2. She will be pursuing similar work in the nonprofit sector as the president and CEO of Chicago-based Access Living.
Eyragon Eidam is the web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at