About our event

Deborah Cunningham was the longtime Executive Director of the Memphis Center for Independent Living and a national activist for disability rights. Deborah believed, “that people with disabilities are a powerful and significant part of our community, yet as a group our social roles have been marginalized by bigotry, discrimination, poverty, isolation and pity.” Deborah worked hard and lived a life that would challenge these beliefs about people with disabilities. She advocated for accessible public transportation, affordable, and integrated housing, and equal access to public accommodations in Memphis and the surrounding areas. Her advocacy was grounded in her belief that people with disabilities have a right to live their life without barriers and on their own terms.

MCIL strives to continue the work that Deborah started through our Access Awards benefit. The purpose of this event is to educate the public regarding access barriers, while raising funds to support our advocacy efforts. We also honor the advocacy efforts of individuals, organizations, and businesses in our community which help to eliminate barriers or increase access for people with disabilities by presenting our annual Advocate of the Year award during the event. Like Deborah, each award winner exemplifies the qualities that she embodied throughout her lifetime, a commitment to help others, the belief that people with disabilities deserve equality, and the tenacity to advocate and fight for change to improve the lives of people with disabilities.