Women’s History Month: Meet Donna Prease

PreaseWomen’s History Month – Donna Prease

March is Women’s History Month. At Maximum Accessible Housing of Ohio (MAHO), we’re privileged to know some absolutely amazing women who have made a great difference in the disability community. This month, we’re featuring four of those women so we can get to know them and their impact on the community.

Meet Donna

Donna Prease isn’t new to the disability rights game. Donna was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a disorder that causes her bones to break easily, and uses a power wheelchair. Her connection to the disability community doesn’t end there. Donna has worked at Linking Employment, Abilities & Potential (LEAP), a local nonprofit that provides a variety of services for people with disabilities, for over 25 years as a Grassroots Advocate and Peer Mentor. Beyond LEAP, Donna is a member of multiple boards of disability-related causes, including MAHO, where she has also been a tenant for 32 years (in fact, she was the second person to move in)!

Leading, in College and Beyond

Donna has an Associate’s Degree in Business Management from Cuyahoga Community College, where she attended the Metro campus. Donna went to college before the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, so many of the accessibility features mandated today (i.e. curb cuts and braille signage) were not present on campus when she went to school. In her time at Cuyahoga Community College, Donna joined the Access Club, a student organization dedicated to advancing the rights of students with disabilities. Through the Access Club, Donna was able to work with campus leaders to transform the accessibility of the Metro Campus of Cuyahoga Community College so she, and students like her, could have equal participation in their education.

In her work at LEAP, Donna has been able to impact the disability community in multiple ways. As a Peer Mentor, Donna spends a lot of time working to move people out of nursing homes and into more independent housing. Part of that process includes teaching people about community resources available to them and how to use Paratransit, Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s public transportation for people with disabilities. Another large part of Donna’s work is as a Grassroots Advocate. She trains people with disabilities on advocating for their rights and how to ensure their voices are heard by government leaders. “I tell them that their legislators work for them,” Donna explained when telling us about her advocacy efforts.

Outside of LEAP, Donna is extremely active in the Cleveland disability community. Donna serves on the Board of Maximum Accessible Housing of Ohio, Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (and their ADA Committee as Vice Chair), the Citizen’s Advisory Board, ADA Cleveland, Cleveland Department of Aging Advisory Council (Vice Chair), and North Coast CHDO Homes. She has been featured in Plain Dealer articles numerous times and is usually found right in the middle of the action at any disability-related event. In the mid-1980’s, Donna was also a part of the “Stop the Bus” movement in Cleveland, protesting for equal opportunities for people with disabilities to use the bus system. When she’s not breaking down barriers, Donna spends time with her niece and nephew, whom she helped raise. Now at 31 and 28, Donna is very close to her niece and nephew. Donna remembers fondly, “people thought my nephew was my son!”

Triple Threat with Triple Accomplishments

Donna is a self-proclaimed “triple threat: an African American, disabled, woman.” As she explains it, she “can’t win for losing” and has experienced racism, ableism, and sexism. However, Donna hasn’t let her triple-minority status stop her from living her life. She’s still been able to make a large impact in the community and has had a lot of fun! “Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean your life stops,” she explained, “I like to have fun.” Donna lives near Wade Oval in University Circle and during the summer, she is a regular attendee of Wade Oval Wednesday, a free concert in the oval. She’s often entertaining, spending time with family and friends, traveling, and going out to eat.

When asked about her greatest accomplishments, Donna said three things came to mind. First, she has had the opportunity to influence legislators on disability rights issues. She visited and talked with Federal Congress members and has also testified in front of Ohio House and Senate about public transportation rights for people with disabilities. Second, Donna had the opportunity to march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC during the 2009 Annual Conference on Independent Living, which is held yearly by the National Council on Independent Living.  The conference includes a public march and display for disability rights. Last, but definitely not least, Donna was recognized as a leader in the disability community when she had the opportunity to talk at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) for three different classes. Because of her expertise in the disability community and her “triple threat” status, Donna was the perfect lecturer for CWRU’s class on ableism.

Donna has had enough impact and accomplishments for a lifetime, but she’s not done. Donna continues her membership on the multitude of boards she serves on, works at LEAP, and advocates daily in the community. She’s a woman on a mission for equal rights and inclusion for people with disabilities, and if anyone is prepared for this fight, it’s Donna.