Dale Coski has been, in the course of her 59 years, alternatingly infuriating and inspiring.
Infuriating to those who put up obstacles for people with disabilities. Inspiring to everyone else.
In September 1983 — less than two years into her job as a Denver police officer — Coski stopped to help a stranded motorist on I-70 and was struck by another car. Three decades later she’s still living with the results: a closed head injury, amputation of her left leg above the knee, quadriplegia.
Before joining the police force, Coski had been a nun, a Cold War Army intelligence officer, and a school teacher on Chicago’s South Side. The common threads binding these chapters of her life are a passion for helping people and a yearning for independence.
The accident might have ended that. There were days when she refused to get out of bed, she recalls, and when she was released from Craig Hospital, “I needed assistance with just about everything.”
The police department forced her to retire, a move she fought all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court, where she lost the case. Coski wanted a chance to test for another job, but this was before the Americans with Disabilities Act changed the landscape for people with disabilities.
“Perseverance is the word that comes to mind when I think of Dale,” says Craig Hospital Outpatient Clinical Care Management Social Worker Kathy Hulse, who has worked with Coski for more than 25 years. “She faced a lot of challenges without a lot of support. It would have been easier to give up, but that’s not her style.”
“Anger was a motivator,” Coski says, “but so was the public support. I saw the good side of people.”
In a big step toward independence, she got a service dog — named Perseverance, “Persey” for short — with help from a Craig staffer. Persey was the first service dog in Colorado, and in 1985 she was at Coski’s side when she testified before the state legislature to create laws granting service dog access.
In 1985 Coski began working for the Denver Agency for Human Rights and Community Relations, where she enforced compliance with requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. “She was my go-to person when I was looking for accessibility information to help other patients,” Hulse says. “She was always willing to be a resource for people in the community.”
Coski developed a handicapped parking application program that has been modeled across the nation, and she helped create the Denver Disability Parking Enforcement Program. Coski learned to drive with an adaptive van and donated one to Craig to help other disabled people learn the skill.
When Coski retired from the Agency for Human Rights in 2014, the City and County of Denver issued a proclamation marking the occasion and honoring her “remarkable and inspirational contributions.”
Her legacy, Coski says, is “planting seeds so other things can grow from it.”