“My hope is that every place will be wheelchair-accessible” (Marianne Mahoney’s quote on the paper link she created for the Easter Seals paper chain project, Spring 2015.)
There’s nothing that Marianne likes more than family get togethers, and fortunately for her, we’ve got a large, and mostly local, extended family. Last spring, we all planned to meet in a Boston-neighborhood restaurant that is completely wheelchair-accessible, with designated accessible street parking, curb cuts, and a ramp. There are wide doors and a wheelchair-accessible bathroom. There is clear access through the restaurant…. oh, wait.
Because on that day, there wasn’t. Restaurant management had put a dinner table right in front of the handicap-accessible entrance, and our route to our family – seated in the next room – meant that we had to uproot an entire table of people. As we stood there, an awkward pause ensued, during which I inwardly fumed that yet again, Marianne’s way was barred when it needn’t have been. Graciously, the group of six noticed us, stood up, smiled, and made way for Marianne, and the hostess rolled her eyes at me and said, “I keep telling ‘them’ (management) that you can’t put a table here!”
So, okay, the people who were sitting there moved and were nice about it. The hostess validated our issue. But really, should Marianne/we have been made to feel grateful or to say, “sorry, excuse me”? Should we have felt that we importuned an entire table? Or felt the attention of all those seated nearby? No. It’s Marianne’s right to roll into a public restaurant and garner no more attention than me, or the guy behind me, or the kid behind him, and get to her reserved table with no more thought than someone who is able to walk without assistance.
Easter Seals Youth Leaders have coordinated groups throughout the state to create paper links like Marianne’s (with a statement of how the ADA has changed their lives or a wish for something that would make a difference still in the life of someone differently-abled). These paper links will be joined together this week to commemorate the strides – and the work yet to be done – in the area of disability rights.
On Wednesday, July 22, from 11 am to 3 pm, you can be part of this civil rights movement by celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) on Boston Common. Hosted by the New England ADA Center, the day will include a parade, speakers and family-friendly events.
“Accommodating a person with a disability is no longer a matter of charity but instead a basic issue of civil rights.” (from The History of the Americans with Disabilities Act, by Arlene Mayerson, 1992)
Yes to that.
To Marianne, and to all who recognize this as a civil rights challenge: keep on keeping on. We can all play a part to further the rights of those whose civil liberties have yet to be fully realized.