Oak Park disability advocate dies at 68

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Joel Sheffel, a lively and pugnacious advocate for people with disabilities in Oak Park and beyond, was found dead in his Oak Park apartment on Monday. Mr. Sheffel was 68 and reportedly suffered from leukemia, according to a spokeswoman for the Oak Park Housing Authority. He had last been seen at The Oaks late on Sunday evening.

He had lived for 11 years at The Oaks, 114 S. Humphrey Ave., an apartment building for seniors and the disabled, that is run by the housing authority.

Mr. Sheffel was the founder and executive director of the West Suburban Access News Association, an advocacy group and website which served as a hub for information on living with disabilities. He told Wednesday Journal in 2010 that he started the effort when he was unable to find a source of information to meet his own needs.

"I had no idea where to go for help or what to do," he said. "I had no idea it was going to grow to where it is now. I just kept adding information. I've been completely surprised by our ability to establish ourselves with other organizations who serve people with disabilities and gaining their respect and willingness to work with us."

Funeral arrangements for Mr. Sheffel were pending as of press time on Tuesday morning.

Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

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Sally Noble  

Posted: September 30th, 2011 8:14 PM

Joel reminded the many members of his church that family is defined by those who are willing to accept and embrace each other.

Norman Clearfield from Forest Park, IL  

Posted: September 30th, 2011 5:12 PM

Joel was a true hero and inspiration to me.

Andrea M.B. Ott  

Posted: September 29th, 2011 4:32 PM

Joel was not just a strong advocate; he was a force and a source of inspiration for many. I echo the comments from those who have said he is not gone. His legacy will live on, as will the imprint he left on those of us he touched. As a fellow Universal Access Commissioner, I know that our commission will drive forward to help people with disabilities, and I for one will be working towards our goals with Joel's voice in the back of my mind, always reminding me how important our mission is.

Horacio Esparza from Forest Park  

Posted: September 29th, 2011 10:47 AM

I had the opportunity to interview Joel on my radio show "Vida Independiente" to talk about his dreams and goals. He was very committed and a great advocate, however, he is not gone, he will continue advocating for those who most need. Joel, keep looking for resources for our brothers and sisters with disabilities. We are sad because you are gone, but very greatful for all those good things you had done.

John Jansa  

Posted: September 28th, 2011 4:53 PM

We had the opportunity to work with Joel on many occasions. Progress Center for Independent Living is an organization whose mission is carried out by people with disabilities for the benefit of people with disabilities. Joel embodied that mission and carried onward with a never-ending drive and passion. Joel always worked with a goal of seeing that society changed in a way that benefited everyone. Rest in peace Joel.

Carol Southern from Oak Park  

Posted: September 28th, 2011 1:13 PM

I only met Joel a couple of times, but he sure made an impression as a dedicated advocate for people with disabilities. I'm very sorry to hear of his passing.

Scott Jensen from Oak Park  

Posted: September 28th, 2011 9:41 AM

I was very saddened to hear of Joel's passing. I just saw this past Saturday at the Farmer's Market helping out at the Donut Day booth. Joel will truly be missed. I had only known Joel a few months when I came aboard the Universal Access Commission. He was such a strong advocate for disability rights and was well informed. He taught me a lot and it was a pleasure serving on the Universal Access Commission with him. He will truly be missed.

Claudia Divis  

Posted: September 28th, 2011 9:38 AM

Joel will be deeply missed at Pilgrim Church, where he arrived early every Sunday to help prepare for services. He was our brother.

J.Martin Konecki  

Posted: September 27th, 2011 8:33 PM

Joel had attended the St Catherine /St Lucy free health fair on Aug 6th as a vendor. His efforts and thoughts were always in the right place for the right reasons. God Bless and Rest In Peace.

Adam Salzman from Oak Park  

Posted: September 27th, 2011 8:17 PM

Joel was one of a kind, and as a Universal Access commissioner, he was indispensable. We will have to work extra hard to fill the void left by his passing. He was a one-man clearinghouse of information on disability rights, a fountain of information, and one who refused to keep quiet when his sense of dignity was offended. I'll miss him.

Teresa Powell  

Posted: September 27th, 2011 8:12 PM

It was a shock to hear of Joel's passing, as I had just been talking with him last week about the Universal Access Commission of the Vilage on which he served. His presence and passion will be missed.

Deborah Wess  

Posted: September 27th, 2011 4:51 PM

Joel was a literal living embodiment of Oak Park values: advocating, speaking up and out, and increasing everyone's understanding of what "diversity" needs to emcompass. I hope to hear of news of a memorial at Pilgrim or elsewhere.

Jan Pate from Oak Park  

Posted: September 27th, 2011 4:26 PM

Joel was a tireless advocate for persons with disabilities. His voice will live on beyond his physical presence in our community. Thank you Joel for speaking up and speaking out -- but always with respect and kindness.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: September 27th, 2011 4:11 PM

Just this past Saturday, Mr. Sheffel was at the Farmer's Market Donut Day booth, helping to support Pilgrim Church. He always had some feedback for elected officials on ways to improve access for people with disabilities. As a member of the VOPs citizen volunteer Universal Access Commission, Joel came to every meeting prepared and ready to share information. He leaves a lasting legacy which has helped improve the lives of many.

gail moran from oak park  

Posted: September 27th, 2011 3:44 PM

Very sad.

David Kindler  

Posted: September 27th, 2011 3:41 PM

That is sad. Joel never quit pushing for respect of the rights of people with disabilities. Regardless of the forum or odds against him, Joel stuck to his guns.

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