Champions for People with Disabilities

Excerpted from the Iroquois County Times Republic – November 8, 2007

By Wendy Davis

The Watseka Public Library welcomed Diana Braun and Kathy Conour, who gave a viewing of their film “Body and Soul: Diana and Kathy”. Braun and Conour work hard fighting for the rights of disabled people to keep independent lives. In 2002 they fought to have a documentary film about them, Conour said. “We stood outside for two hours waiting for Alice Elliott (the director of the film) to ask her to make a film. She said no but we kept emailing her,” said Conour, originally from Springfield. “She filmed us for five years.” “We always wanted to do a movie,” said Braun, originally from Freeport. This determination is an example of how the women live their lives and fight for what they believe.

The women met 37 years ago and developed a close relationship where Braun, who has Down Syndrome, and Conour, who has Cerebral Palsy, depend upon each other to live out of a nursing home or state run institution.

Sally Newberry, Danforth, said she first met the women in Kankakee where they were denied an apartment to rent. “They needed the apartment. They thought it was perfect because of its location, but the guy didn’t want to rent it to someone with disabilities,” Newberry said. So they set up a sting for the landlord to find out it truly was available. “We told him he had broken the law and he agreed to rent it to them,” she said. “They ended up having a good relationship with him.”

“In 1980 Kathy came down and worked at the Arc and Diana volunteered at the Welles Shop,” she said.

“Since meeting they have become wonderful advocates,” said Lou Ellen Strong, with the Arc. The film shows how the women achieve their day to day lives and documents their struggles as well. In the film it shows Conour in her recovery after breaking her hip getting on a train. Also, the viewer watches the effects Braun’s abusive mother have had on her. Finally, when the women are confronted as being too independent for Medicare they take their fight to Illinois state senators and representatives.

Braun said they have been to the White House and have plans to visit every state to show their film. She said she thinks the 40-minute film may be shown on PBS or WE sometime, but it can be pre-ordered by contacting Strong through the Arc.