'Equal access for all'; Human Rights Award goes to Gary McDermott

May 17—Gary McDermott, of Clinton, was recognized Thursday inside Clinton City Hall as the 18th recipient of the Human Rights Award.

"Until a disability affects your life, you may not appreciate his efforts," McDermott's wife Cindy said. "'Adapt, modify, and overcome' is his motto, and he lives that to the fullest."

McDermott graduated from Clinton High School in 1967. He was drafted the following year and went to basic training in Fort Bliss, Texas. He transferred to helicopter training in Fort Eustis, Virginia, then in October 1968 was in South Vietnam. McDermott, ultimately a Corporal, was honorably discharged in 1970.

It was shortly after that McDermott had the first of two major accidents when he broke his neck diving into a swimming pool in Albuquerque, New Mexico. McDermott broke his back in the second accident and spent the next 12 months in rehabilitation.

"After extensive rehabilitation," McDermott said Thursday, "I went back to college where I was aware that the world was really not made or designed for someone on four wheels."

McDermott received an associate's degree in 1987 from Clinton Community College. He was instrumental during his time as a student there and afterward, Cindy said, in changes made at the college for the disabled.

McDermott then earned a bachelor's degree in social work from Marycrest College in Davenport in 1989.

McDermott went on to do V.A. inspections as a member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America national office in Washington, D.C. He for 12 years was the vice president of the chapter and served as the Chicago president for eight years before retiring in 2010.

McDermott has been a board member for the Vietnam Veterans of America in Bettendorf and for two years chaired the Governor's Committee for Persons with Disabilities.

Nearly 15 years ago, after the Americans with Disabilities Act had gone into effect in 1990, McDermott presented its guidelines to Clinton City Council who then adopted them into the City's ordinances.

He also presented the information to the Clinton County Board of Supervisors who adopted the Act's guidelines as well and created a subsequent committee on which McDermott serves.

Clinton's Human Rights Commission, established in 1968 and made up of seven members, works to carry out its mission of creating freedom from discrimination in local society.

Previous recipients of the Commission's Human Rights Award have included Information, Referral and Assistance Services executive director Regan Michelson in 2021, and Attorney Jack Wolfe in 2023.

"To me, this award means my efforts over the years to create equal access for all, especially in our own town, have not gone unrecognized," McDermott said, "but instead of recognizing just me, you have recognized me and the need for inclusion of all people in our society."

McDermott was nominated for the award by his wife Cindy, Edward Brown and Tami Leavens of the city's ADA Advisory Commission..

Leavens on Thursday commended McDermott's extensive knowledge, dedication to follow through on his pursuits, and his accomplishments both within the city of Clinton and the state of Iowa.

"He is so compassionate," she said. "I respect him."