Vanessa Harris ’76

By Joe Engleman ’14

Vanessa Harris ’76 received the prestigious Leaders for a New Chicago Award last summer for the profound impact that Harris’ organization, the Strategy for Access Foundation, has made in producing short videos celebrating and informing Chicago’s vast disability community.

As someone living with disabilities, both visible and invisible, Harris says that creative solutions have been a critical life skill.

“I’ve always been a problem solver because I’ve always had disabilities, and they lead me to come up with solutions that other people may not,” Harris says. “Many people with disabilities have to do the same thing because no one is looking out for them.”

Harris had been prepared to pursue a PhD in the mid-2010s, however the faculty member Harris had hoped to work with withdrew funding without notice. Soon after, Harris’ doctor said, “Vanessa, go and do something else for a few weeks. Do not think about this.” That something else turned out to be a documentary film class at the Hyde Park Arts Center. “And here I am 120 videos later,” Harris says.

Several Grinnell students and alumni have interned at Strategy for Access, including Elizabeth Zerez ’22 and Abby Lynch ’24. Harris is hopeful more Grinnellians might be interested in getting involved as interns, volunteers, board members, or in some other capacity.

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