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Disability Community Advocate Dies At 49

January 18, 2012, 10:00 PM by Hailey Higgins

Disability Community Advocate Dies At 49
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Sioux Falls lost another important member of the community last week, a strong advocate for people with disabilities.

Flags at the North Central Chapter of Paralized Veterans of America are at half staff in remembrance of not only former Governor Bill Janklow, but also Joel Niemeyer.

"It was really sudden. It was one of these, it was a slap in the face," Government Relations Director Ken Laughlin said.

The former executive director passed away in his sleep on January 10 at the age of 49.

He spent nearly 30 years advocating for people with disabilities after a spinal cord injury left him paralyzed. In an 1998 interview with KELOLAND News, he spoke out against higher paratransit fees in Sioux Falls.

"It is going to be a concern because there are a lot of folks with low incomes, fixed incomes that struggle right now just to get around," Niemeyer said.

"If you had a disability, and it didn't make a difference if you're in a wheelchair or not, his goal was to help you the best way he could and that's how he approached things," Laughlin said.

Ken Laughlin worked at the North Central Chapter for six years under Niemeyer. He says Niemeyer worked tirelessly and succeeded in making life better for people with disabilities.

Niemeyer helped enforce ADA compliance in parking lots across Sioux Falls, as well as the snow removal ordinance on sidewalks.

At the very end of December, Niemeyer stepped down as executive director. Laughlin said he leaves behind a void that will be hard to fill.

"We just don't have the individuals to pick it up and so we've got to figure out how to overcome that," Laughlin said.

Niemeyer is described as a problem solver who always smiled, confident we all can leave the world better than we found it.



© 2012 KELOLAND TV. All Rights Reserved.

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