Walking the Walk

A few months ago, I was sitting in my car in a parking lot, and I saw a car pull into a disabled parking place. No one hung a disability placard on the rearview mirror, and I saw a young man jump out and head for the store.
“Hey, that’s a disabled parking place,” I yelled at him.
I know–I’ll just be a second,” he yelled back and kept going.
After about ten minutes, I called the police non-emergency line and gave them the license plate number. I sped off, however, when the driver’s passenger jumped out of the car and started running towards me, yelling, “He’s going to move it!”
I hope the guy got a ticket. I’ll never know, because I was busy escaping. But in retrospect, this was far from a victory. I have MS, a disease where people often do not show any symptoms. We are therefore particularly vulnerable to strangers openly challenging us when we use accessible parking places. So, I, of all people, should have known better then to act on my impulses in that situation. The fact that I happened to accurately gauge the situation was just a coincidence–nothing more.
A couple of weeks ago, I was involved in another way to advocate for people with disabilities. This didn’t involve accessible parking places per say, but the striped spaces that are next to them. Those areas provide room for people with disabilities to use their wheelchairs, walkers or scooters to exit their cars.
But unfortunately, people are forever leaving vehicles (such as motorcycles and delivery trucks) in those areas. That was the subject considered by the Oregon Transportation Commission last October 19, when they held a hearing on a proposal to require that “no parking” signs be painted onto those stripes.
Several of us went to the meeting to show our support for the proposal. But the most powerful witness of the day was Michael Volpe. Michael has a BA in Forestry and an ME in English as a Second Language. His career was cut short, however, by the onset of multiple sclerosis in 1978. As the disease has ravaged his body, he has become unable to move either his arms or legs. He is also legally blind and is gradually losing his ability to talk.
But with the help of his assistant, he spoke passionately about the effect these obstructions have on his life and the lives of others who use assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and power scooters. There are many times, he said, where he is either unable to find a disabled parking place or finds one from which he cannot exit.
Happily, the commission voted unanimously to enact this change. This will be extraordinarily helpful for Michael and other wheelchair users. It will also help him continue to travel around Oregon and do his advocacy work, which has included serving on the State Independent Living Council and the Oregon Disabilities Commission.
As a colleague once wrote about Michael, “While [he] can no longer stand or walk and while his voice must be amplified by a microphone, Mike always stands up for the rights and well-being of others, and his voice is heard loud and clear.”
These two situations are perfect examples of the different ways we can advocate to make sure that our legal protections remain intact (both figuratively and physically).
Tags Activism & Advocacy      4 Appreciate this

Helen Russon

Helen Russon is an (inactive) attorney who teaches disability law and has investigated many civil rights cases with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. She has also written many articles on disability issues and done other volunteer work with her local chapter. As a person living with MS, Helen wants to share both her expertise and experience. She is careful to emphasize, however, that nothing she writes is intended to be legal advice. It is general information to help point readers in the right direction.