Stephen D. Cannerelli/The Syracuse Newspapers

Brian McLane grew up in an era when America’s leaders challenged citizens to seek ways to improve society. As a young man with cerebral palsy, he resolved to not let his disability define him or overshadow his skills. Since then, he has fought to improve access to education, work, and leisure opportunities for people with disabilities, while at the same time working in several professional fields, coaching basketball, managing rock bands and political campaigns, and running for political office himself. He is currently assistant commissioner of the Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID) in the New York State Education Department.
      McLane’s accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed. Last November he was one of five people inducted into the National Hall of Fame for Persons with Disabilities, joining such previous inductees as Helen Keller, former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Gallaudet University President I. King Jordan. During his induction speech, McLane spoke of how the social changes of the ’60s influenced his life. He also credited his family for his success. “My parents believed that anyone with a vision to make things better could make that vision a reality if they had the courage and perseverance to see it through,” McLane says. “They wanted to create a better life for their son and for other children with disabilities. They refused to accept what was, and worked toward what could be. They prepared me for a life of work and service.”
      McLane, who joined the state education department in 1989, works at VESID to expand educational and career opportunities for people with disabilities. “The disabled child becomes the disabled adult,” he says. “We can’t raise a child to be dependent on a parent all his life. At VESID we believe education has everything to do with a child’s success and independence in adulthood. But for people with disabilities, this has not been the way education has gone.”
      He grew up in Syracuse and attended Percy Hughes School for children with disabilities from 3rd grade through 10th grade. After his father waged a successful battle against the Westhill Central School District for segregating students with disabilities, McLane enrolled there, completed his high school coursework, and was the first student in a wheelchair to graduate from Westhill. “I was born into the right family,” McLane says.
      He entered SU as a freshman in 1964 and was again a pioneer—arriving at a time when few campus buildings were accessible to him. The University limited him to nine credits per semester. Friends volunteered to help him get around campus. McLane, who had begun working as a statistician for the SU men’s basketball team during his final year of high school, also received assistance from the basketball players, who carried him up and down stairs throughout his five years on campus.
      In addition to serving as a basketball team statistician, McLane was a member of the Newman Club for Catholic students and Alpha Phi Omega (APO) service fraternity. A television and radio major, he worked at WAER radio and the Daily Orange. He also supported himself by managing five different rock bands.
      As vice president of APO during his senior year, McLane and his fraternity brothers worked with SU to reduce campus architectural barriers to people with disabilities. Their example led the APO national leadership to adopt the fraternity’s first national service project in 1970—eliminating architectural barriers on all campuses with APO chapters.
      From there he fought to improve disabled access to many public places in Central New York, including the MONY Plaza in Syracuse and the Syracuse airport, and was involved in discussions with the city to develop policies related to accessible parking spaces. “This was trend-setting at the time,” he says. His efforts earned him the nickname “Mr. Ramp.”
      After graduating from SU, McLane worked for WSYR-TV, and then earned a master’s degree in sports administration from Ohio University in 1971. He became the first full-time director of parks and recreation for the town of Cicero, New York, in 1972, and served as public relations director for the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce from 1976 to 1977.
      Around this time, he developed an interest in politics. He volunteered for numerous political campaigns and ran as a Democrat for Onondaga County clerk in 1977. Although he lost to a longtime incumbent, he became an active player in Onondaga County Demoratic politics. “The thrill of competition along with a desire to influence public policy compelled me to run,” he says. “We didn’t win the election, but it did raise my political profile.”
      In 1978 McLane became senior executive assistant to state Assemblyman Mel Zimmer, who sponsored legislation on curb cuts before such federal legislation existed. “The activities of my generation led to the concept of universal design,” he says. “This is now incorporated into many state and federal laws.”
      In 1983 McLane returned to the world of sports and recreation when he was appointed assistant commissioner for governmental and community affairs in the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. To this day, he maintains a strong interest in sports and remains a loyal SU basketball fan.
      Over the years, McLane has also volunteered with numerous initiatives to influence policy relating to individuals with disabilities, including the 1977 White House Conference on the Disabled, and the Governor’s Task Force on Accessibility for the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. He chaired the New York State Council of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities and the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, and served on many other government and private councils.
      McLane, who recently had an SU scholarship established in his name by an anonymous donor, considered these efforts an avocation rather than a vocation until state officials—including former Governor Mario Cuomo—convinced him to accept the position with VESID. “My life is not a master plan, it just sort of happens,” he says. “At one point I promised I would not make my disability my career. But as I got older and wiser, I came to understand that my disability is a part of me and that there is a need for individuals with disabilities to serve as spokespeople.”


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